October 26, 2018

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Modern day slavery

Modern day slavery: New scheme launched to improve car wash safety

A Home Office minister has backed a new scheme designed to protect vulnerable workers in the thousands of hand car washes up and down the country, many of whom are at risk of modern day slavery.


The Responsible Car Wash Scheme, which targets modern day slavery and health and safety issues in car washes, was formally launched earlier this week at an event at the House of Lords.

The scheme has been developed by the Downstream Fuel Association alongside the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Police, the Health and Safety Executive, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Environment Agency and the Car Wash Association.

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.

According to the organisers, consumers can then be reassured that the site operates with safe conditions for its workers as well as having ethical and compliant employment practices, that they protect the environment and deal with pollution appropriately, and, overall, trade legally and responsibly.

It is also being supported by five major supermarkets who want to ensure that their operators are working legally. Earlier this week, SHP reported that recycling and waste management provider Biffa had joins fight against modern slavery.

Unsatisfactory conditions

Responsible Car Wash SchemeCommenting on the launch, the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins, said: “It is horrifying to think that we could be benefiting from a service provided by someone forced to work in unsatisfactory conditions for little or no pay. Modern slavery, is an abhorrent crime that strips people of their liberty and their fundamental rights.

“I’m glad to see collaborative initiatives, like the Responsible Car Wash Scheme being led by industry to drive up standards and prevent workers from exploitation.”

Speaking at the launch event itself, the former Bishop of Durham, The Rt Revd Dr Alastair Redfern, said hand car washes had become a “breeding ground for poor work practice and modern slavery, and for bringing people into forced labour”.

Dr Redfern said a Church of England group, known as the Clewer Initiative launched the Car Wash Safety App earlier this summer, which allows smartphone users to learn about the signs of labour exploitation in hand car washes, and report their concerns to the Modern Slavery Helpline.

Since being launched at the beginning of June, Dr Redfern said the app has been downloaded more than 7,000 times and produced 2,000 reports to be active upon.

“We live in a pop-up society, where things come and go at great speed in order to satisfy demand and markets,” the former Bishop told the launch event. “Car washes are a good example of that.

“As our society becomes more flexible and fast paced, we have to participate in trying to see what is going and raise questions,” he added.

Earlier this year, Adam Gomes CMIOSH outlined on SHP some of the issues small businesses and temporary summer ventures may overlook, after observing some bad practice at his local hand car wash.

Personal protective equipment.

Daryl Dixon, from the GLAA said it has seen several issues in this industry, including modern day slavery, debt bondage, failure to pay proper wages, through to workers not being provided with any appropriate or personal protective equipment.

He told the event there are around 20,000 hand car washes in the UK, although “nobody knows what the true figure is”.

“There is clearly forced labour and modern slavery in the car wash industry, but let’s put it in context,” he added.

“In evidence we gave to the Environmental Audit Committee earlier this summer, in our first year of operation we received 178 individual referrals, alleging problems at car washes.

“Of those, 62% were not actionable intelligence. There was nothing that suggested a serious offence. It led to 28 investigations and within those, one case led to an arrest.

“There are serious cases, but we cannot investigate and prosecute our way out of the problem. We need to look at prevent as a method of trying to control the marketplace.”

Mr Dixon said it was important to bring all the available data together on car wash locations around the country. He added the Car Wash Safety app has already pinpointed 1,800 operators, while the Valuation Office and Gwent Police are also conducting separate searches.

“When this scheme gets rolled out, we will be able to see which ones are in the scheme and which ones are outside,” he added. “The pop-up car washes are the least likely to come into this process, and we want to either marginalise them or get them removed, because they are the most likely to be exploitative.

“By knowing where they are, we should reduce the amount of intelligence we receive that is not actionable and does not help us. We should be able to focus our enforcement resources on those pop ups instead.”



Also speaking at the event was Sir David Metcalf, Director of Labour Market Enforcement, who highlighted that hand car washes are at risk of being non-compliant with a raft of regulations and legislation, including modern day slavery in his recently published strategy.

“The car wash sector is one we know is at the top end of the ‘at risk’ of non-compliance,” he said at the launch event.

“An accredited status will allow customers to make responsible choices about what car washes they want to use.

“But the challenge as I see it is not for the accredited scheme to be welcomed with open arms, but that we must have our eyes open to the small car washes that are not in the scheme.”

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said the scheme is “a positive step” towards tackling labour abuse and is urged other industries to follow suit.

“It’s worrying that modern slavery has gained a foothold in hand car washes and other industries in the UK and across the world. Many instances are quite simply crimes ‘hiding’ in plain sight,” said IOSH’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Richard Jones.

“This new logo pilot scheme is a positive step and we will be monitoring its progress with interest. Many hand car washes are responsible businesses that protect workers and the environment, and they will be highlighted by this. At the same time, those car washes which don’t comply will be encouraged to do so.

“We would like to see other industries learn lessons from this scheme. All workers in all industries have a right to be protected by their employers,” added Mr Jones.

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Steven Nagle
Steven Nagle
5 years ago

How self-righteous of Parliament. I bet they don’t think of these people and their rights when they’re voting themselves a 26% pay rise every few years whilst the rest of us struggle to get by!