MPs demand crackdown on hand car washes in bid to beat modern slavery
The Government must launch a crackdown on hand car washes around the UK amid evidence they play a major role in the scourge of modern slavery, MPs have said.
The Environmental Audit Committee pointed to evidence showing a quarter of calls to the modern slavery helpline came from workers at manual car washes.
It also cited a study which found that out of 450 people who had been trafficked into the UK, 40 were working in hand wash stations and often lived in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
In a new report, the MPs called on ministers to update slavery laws and trial a new licencing scheme for hand car washes that would also ensure they comply with environmental pollution standards.
It concluded that hand car washes were posing a risk to water quality through waste water being allowed to flow into drains that discharge directly into water courses.
On labour conditions, the MPs said the Health and Safety Executive had reported violations which led to trench foot and chemical burns for workers from exposure to water and cleaning agents.
The regulator has taken action against 103 hand car washes in the past three years - including one death in unsafe accommodation - with 45 firms served with notices to close them down.
Elsewhere, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority said investigations over a one-year period led to three cases being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.
EAC chair Mary Creagh said hand car washes "hide the widespread exploitation of workers through illegally low pay, poor working conditions and in some cases, forced labour".
"We were astonished and dismayed to discover that there have only been 14 minimum wage prosecutions since 1999," the Labour MP said.
"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."
The committee found that cheap hand car washes have pushed out automatic machines found at petrol stations, with manual labour now taking up 80% of UK car wash sector.
It added that while there is estimated to be between 10,000 to 20,000 hand car washes operating in Britain, there is no accurate figure.