As many forecourt owners with car wash facilities know to their cost, unscrupulous hand car washes (HCWs), with no regard for labour laws or environmental regulations, can steal many of their customers away by undercutting legitimate businesses. Initially, the authorities seemed reluctant to tackle this scourge, but after intense lobbying by the PRA, and the realisation that HCWs are often involved in human trafficking and slavery, people at the very top are demanding action.

PRA chairman Brian Madderson points out that the Prime Minister Theresa May was responsible for the 2015 Modern Slavery Act when she was Home Secretary. That legislation changed the climate around these shady operations, leading to police raids around the country, but there are still many in business, and now new campaigns are aiming to root them out.

The Scottish government has just launched a six-week campaign to make people aware that human trafficking is happening in Scotland, to bring the hidden crime out into the open, and encourage members of the public to report suspicious activity to the authorities. And with encouragement from the PRA and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), HCWs are being targeted as one of the prime sources of the problem.

PRA chairman Brian Madderson said: "We have been working with the Criminal Justice Department of the Scottish government and their media advisors on this new, hard-hitting campaign. Hand car washes are specifically highlighted, which is encouraging. Having spoken to both the civil servants and the PR company, there is definitely an opportunity over the next six weeks of this campaign to identify unregulated HCWs, which should be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities."

He is urging PRA members who have suspicions about local HCWs to contact the authorities. And with the PRA now responsible for the Car Wash Association, which includes the major car wash manufacturers among its members, those companies will be contacting their customers to encourage them to take an active role too.

The Scottish government says the latest figures show there were 150 potential victims of trafficking identified in Scotland in 2016 a 52% increase since 2013 however the Home Office estimates this is the tip of the iceberg with around 10-13,000 victims in the UK.

The new awareness campaign is informing Scots that human trafficking may be closer than most of them think. The locations where victims of human trafficking have been identified over the past five years have been pinpointed for the first time, to challenge perceptions that the crime is confined to Scotland’s major towns and cities. Research published as part of the Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy this year showed that 54% of Scots don’t believe it is an issue in their local area however the identified locations include 27 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, said: "Human trafficking is an appalling abuse of human rights. This horrific crime affects the most vulnerable in society and has wide-reaching consequences for its victims. Generating awareness that the exploitation of adults and children is happening in Scotland today is key to bringing it to an end. This important campaign is part of a series of measures being implemented to eliminate this terrible crime. No one should ever be bought or sold."

police priority

Detective chief superintendent Lesley Boal, head of Public Protection for Police Scotland, said: "Tackling human trafficking is a priority for Police Scotland. It is exploitation and victimisation of vulnerable people and while challenging and complex to investigate, we are determined to improve the intelligence picture in order to gain a better understanding of trafficking in Scotland and the organised crime groups who are involved.

"We will target those who control, abuse and exploit others by working collaboratively with partners to ensure that Scotland is a hostile environment to this sickening trade."

John Merralls, senior operations manager at Migrant Help UK, said: "We welcome the Scottish government’s campaign in tackling the abhorrent crime and abuse of human life that is human trafficking. As a support provider for those recovered, we know first-hand the breadth and depth of this blight on society and how this is not isolated to any particular location in Scotland but covers significant areas both urban and rural."

With the new campaign under way in Scotland, where responsibility is devolved to the Scottish government, attention is now turning to Westminster, and plans for a similar initiative in England and Wales. Madderson said it will be led by the GLAA, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and the Church of England, and is scheduled for the first quarter of 2018.

He added: "We are already working with all these organisations to try and help them pinpoint rogue HCWs through our members. We have nothing against a properly organised and lawfully planned HCW, but we are all against these HCWs who charge ridiculous money because they are not paying their workers the right amount." And he warns that it won’t just be isolated rogue operators who will be feeling the heat. "Some of the worst perpetrators are the big supermarkets with trolley washers on their sites.

"So any of the big operators who allow trolley washing on their sites without the proper vetting procedures for slave labour and human trafficking taking place will be in difficulty."

The five signs of exploitation

Lack of protective clothing for contact with industrial cleaning chemicals workers often wear tracksuits or jeans with trainers or flip flops.
Unprofessional facilities no water drainage, no appropriate electrical wiring, temporary signage only, no public liability indemnity insurance and no visible first aid equipment.
Three or more people washing one single car despite low prices to drivers of around £5 this cannot add up to cover the minimum wage, let alone any other overheads.
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.
Signs that people both live and work on site unsuitable metal containers near toilet facilities and hanging laundry.
If you suspect someone is being exploited you can call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700.