Anti-Slavery Day: PCC calls for a national licensing scheme for car washes and nail bars to combat modern slavery

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey David Munro is calling for a national licensing scheme for car washes and nail bars to help combat the scourge of modern slavery.

The PCC says organised crime gangs are forcing people to work in hand car washes and nail bars for low wages or to pay off ‘debts’ to gangmasters and are often a front for other criminal activity such as money laundering and drug dealing.

Today (Thursday 18th October) marks Anti-Slavery Day which aims to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery and encourage government, local authorities, companies, charities and individuals to do what they can to address the problem.

Car washes and nail bars are among the top trade areas where the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) have highlighted that slavery is taking place along with construction and recycling.

The Director of Labour Market Enforcement recently issued his annual strategy which included a recommendation for a pilot scheme to test the feasibility of the GLAA licensing hand car washes and nail bars.

The PCC has written to the Home Office asking them develop a national scheme which would help the public identify legitimate car washes and nail bars and help the authorities close down those that are exploiting vulnerable people.

He said that modern slavery is happening in Surrey communities with 51 victims referred to the National Crime Agency in Surrey last year, 17 of these being victims of forced labour. Surrey Police also recently secured the first conviction for modern slavery in the county.

PCC David Munro said: “I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly there are ruthless and organised crime gangs operating out there who are exploiting and abusing their workers.

“The hand car wash and nail bar industries are some of those trade areas that these gangs have targeted which is why I believe the time has come to have a national licensing scheme for them.

“Members of the public can then easily identify whether the car wash or nail bar they are using is certified to the right standards or is a non-licensed enterprise. It also means that police and other agencies can focus on those illegal businesses run by criminals exploiting people and shut them down.

“There are of course legitimate car wash and nail bar businesses out there and they would have absolutely nothing to fear by a licencing scheme being brought into force.

“I believe that if Surrey residents knew how to differentiate between legitimate businesses and those that might be exploiting their staff, then they would pay a little more and choose the legitimate one.

“They would know then they aren’t supporting organised crime, people aren’t being exploited to provide that service to them and less police time is spent on identifying and shutting these places down.”

The Independent Modern Slavery Commissioner has produced five tell-tale signs of modern slavery in car washes:

  1. Workers are not wearing protective clothing but are dressed in tracksuits or jeans with trainers or flip-flops.
  2. Premises have unsuitable drainage, exposed electrical wiring, temporary signs, no public liability indemnity insurance and no evidence of first aid equipment.
  3. Despite the business charging only around £5 for a car wash, there are three or more people washing a single car, meaning workers are unlikely to be on the minimum wage.
  4. Staff cannot speak English very well and appear anxious and exhausted. A supervisor is present who is polite to customers but not his staff.
  5. Large shipping containers near a lavatory and hanging laundry suggest workers are living on site.

If you have concerns about a car wash or nail bar, please contact the Modern Slavery helpline:

The Clewer Initiative have developed an app to report concerns regarding carwashes. Click here for more details:

If you are a legitimate car wash in Surrey, you can signal this to customers by providing protective clothing, charging the appropriate amount and using recognised chemicals. You could also consider registering with the car wash advisory service.

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