Slavery at your local car wash


Thousands of workers in hand car washes are thought to be victims of modern slavery , paid little or nothing for an 11-hour shift and forced to live in squalid accommodation.

Mirror investigators working with the anti-slavery watchdog found evidence to suggest thousands of mainly Eastern European people could be trapped working on forecourts and car parks.

Unable to speak English, they can work for up to 11 hours a day for little or no pay, and when their shift is done go “home” to makeshift accommodation, made from shipping containers.

The Daily Mirror visited 10 hand car washes and found all displayed at least two of the five tell-tale signs of modern slavery. Only one of the 10 facilities visited had equipped workers with waterproofs and full protective clothing. At seven out of the 10 staff were unfamiliar with the English language. Nine of the 10 lacked professional facilities, often with dangerous electrical wiring. At all 10, they saw three or more workers washing one car, and witnessed up to seven to a vehicle.

At two out of 10 sites, they found evidence to suggest washers were being housed on-site. Workers were reluctant to have conversations with the public and when approached repeatedly pointed us to a “boss”.

5 tell-tale signs of exploitation

1: Lack of protective clothing suitable for contact with industrial cleaning chemicals – workers often wear tracksuits or jeans with trainers or flip flops.

2: Unprofessional facilities – no water drainage, no appropriate electrical wiring, temporary signage only, no public liability indemnity insurance and no visible first aid equipment.

3: Three or more people washing a single car despite low prices of around £5 – this cannot add up to cover the minimum wage, let alone other overheads.

4: Staff unfamiliar with the English language and showing signs of coercion – indicators of control include signs of anxiety and exhaustion in workers and a “supervisor” who is usually polite to customers, yet controls staff.

5: Signs that people both live and work on site – unsuitable metal containers near toilet facilities and hanging laundry.


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