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Is your car wash supporting modern slavery?

June 30th, 2014 - Posted by Claire Barker in Human Trafficking Awareness

This weekend, BBC Radio 5 Live broadcast a news item suggesting that UK car wash services could be employing slave labour. The feature, (which you can listen to here from 2 hours 40 minutes) included comments from Andrew Wallis, CEO of human trafficking charity Unseen and the Car Wash Association (UK).

Car washApparently there are upwards of 20,000 unregistered hand car wash sites in the UK alone. It was claimed that these sites were likely to pay no rates or tax and were unlikely to pay minimum wages to staff. In some cases it was suggested that employees could receive no wages at all.

A quick glance at recent news items on the subject through the Nexis database identifies that this is a worrying trend:

  • In May, various news outlets reported that two men had been charged with keeping 10 men as slaves for five months in Southampton.
  • In December 2013, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex reported that modern slavery was an issue in Essex and cited nail bars and car washes as two seemingly legitimate businesses that could be hiding modern slavery.

It is easy to think of slavery as an overseas problem – indeed we have touched on this before, most recently related to the prawn industry in Thailand – but it is not as simple as that. As Business Minister Jenny Willott recently said: "Shoppers more than ever want to know how what they buy got from the factory to the shelf. They are also not afraid to speak up or vote with their feet if they think that those producing their goods are being abused or exploited. ... I hope we will see progress as a result, with more businesses being open with customers and managing their suppliers in an ethical way."

The Modern Slavery Bill

Published by the UK Government on 10th June 2014, The Modern Slavery Bill aims to strengthen the law by consolidating offences into one Act of Law (read our recent overview on the Bill here). The most serious offences will be subject to between 14 years and life in prison and victims of slavery will be provided with protection and support. This legislation should significantly increase the powers of law enforcement and the courts to eradicate slavery in the UK.

Meanwhile, the advice of the UK Car Wash Association is not to use hand car washes that are situated on tarmac rather than concrete. This is apparently one of the most certain ways to identify an unregistered car wash site.  Whilst many industries will still be susceptible to slavery, this is something practical that people can do to ensure there is no chance of supporting slavery in the car wash industry.

End notes

The LexisNexis Human Trafficking Awareness Index™ data model highlights emerging trends and patterns of awareness within and across national borders. The Index uses the respected Nexis® service to track and analyse the volume of articles related to human trafficking. Using a licensed collection of almost 6,000 of the most influential news sources from more than 120 countries, the HTA Index highlights emerging trends and patterns of awareness within and across national borders. Activists working to combat human trafficking can use this information to highlight and raise awareness to inform their efforts and gain greater understanding of the news..

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