Modern Slavery: MPs call for car wash gangs to be licensed
A leading group of MPs has called for hand car washes to be licensed to prevent ‘modern slavery in plain sight on Britain’s streets’.
In a report published today (15 November), the Environmental Audit Select Committee has called on ministers to review whether the Modern Slavery Act 2015 should be updated to cover small car wash gangs.
The report adds the Government should consider trialling a licensing scheme for hand car washes that brings together all of the major compliance requirements, including on environmental pollution, into a single, more easily enforceable, legal requirement.
It also calls on the Environment Agency to work with immigration, tax recovery and GLAA enforcement officials to ensure that unannounced inspection of hand car washes are comprehensively investigated.
According to the report, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 hand car washes operating on UK streets.
The report also found the use of migrant labour has led to widespread practices of undercutting labour standards and other regulation.
In the last three years the HSE has taken enforcement action against 103 hand car washes with 45 businesses served with notices requiring an immediate stop to work activity, and 27 businesses served notices stating improvements to be made within a specified time period.
However, the report also found the HSE has not prosecuted any car wash through the courts.
Last month, the Responsible Car Wash Scheme was launched to help targets modern day slavery and health and safety issues in car washes.
The scheme will initially be run in the Midlands and once a member, car wash operators will be able to display a Responsible Car Wash Operator logo which will enable consumers to make a clear choice between a fully compliant operator, that has been through the accreditation process and verified by audits and spot-checks, to one that may not be.
“Hand car washes are a common sight in our towns and cities,” said Committee Chairman, Mary Creagh. “Yet they hide the widespread exploitation of workers through illegally low pay, poor working conditions and in some cases, forced labour. This is unacceptable.
“We were astonished and dismayed to discover that there have only been 14 minimum wage prosecutions since 1999. The Government must target the sector and prosecute exploitative employers. This would send a strong signal that worker exploitation has no place in the UK.
“Regulators seem to turn a blind eye to breaches of planning and environmental regulations at hand car washes. Being labelled as ‘low risk’ must not mean hand car washes are given a permit to pollute. Councils, police and central government must work together to tackle labour and environmental abuses at hand car washes,” added Ms Creagh.
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