LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Modern slavery in Britain’s hand car washes will be investigated by parliament, a committee of lawmakers said on Tuesday, amid concerns that more people are being abused and enslaved with unregulated sites popping up across the country.
The probe will examine how many of Britain’s 20,000-odd hand car washes have exploited or trafficked workers, and the use of the world-leading 2015 Modern Slavery Act to tackle slavery in the industry, according to a committee of parliamentarians.
Thousands of workers in Britain’s car washes are believed to be slaves - mostly men lured from Eastern Europe then trapped in debt bondage, forced to work in unsafe conditions, stripped of their documents and subjected to threats, abuse and violence.
“We are concerned about the cost to the public purse of tackling criminality (at hand car washes), including trafficking, tax evasion and enforcement of minimum wage law,” said Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.
“(Our inquiry) will ask the government how it is meeting its commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goals to reduce human exploitation,” she said in a statement, which laid out the probe’s other focus into the environmental impact of car washes.
Britain is regarded as an international leader in the fight against modern slavery, having passed a landmark law in 2015 just months before the United Nations adopted a global development goal of ending forced labor and slavery by 2030.
While forced labor is rife among Britain’s building sites, nail bars, factories and farms, car wash slavery is growing with unregulated businesses sprouting up nationwide, the country’s anti-slavery agency and chief said last year.
Police are ramping up investigations but say the crime is tough to crack with thousands of car washes believed to be flouting laws, most victims too scared to speak out, and the cash-squeezed British public hunting for ever cheaper services.
Car washes accounted for the most forced labor cases referred to Britain’s modern slavery helpline last year - making up a quarter of about 700 cases - according to charity Unseen.
“There has been a rise in awareness - more members of the public are taking note and taking action,” Justine Currell, executive director of Unseen, which runs the hotline, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Consumers can bring about change.”
At least 13,000 people in Britain are estimated by the government to be victims of modern slavery - but police say the true figure is far more likely to be in the tens of thousands.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Jared FerriePlease credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org