The Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS) is working with police and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) in Leicester, Norfolk and Suffolk to clamp down on illegal car washes.

A number of hand car wash sites in these areas have been identified as potentially breaking business, environmental and employment laws.

The RCWS has visited them to ascertain the extent of non-compliance and inform the business owners of their obligations.

The RCWS was founded in 2018 with support from the Home Office, the Police, the GLAA and the Anti-Slavery Commissioner to raise standards and promote compliance at car washes across the country. This localised campaign is accompanied by notices on billboards and bus stops that will be seen in the target areas in March and April.

The hand car wash sector has been identified by the GLAA as an industry where workers are at risk of exploitation, ranging from poor working conditions to modern day slavery.

Teresa Sayers, managing director at the RCWS, said: “Having visited the sites it is evident that there are serious breaches of regulations taking place and standards urgently need to be improved. We ask car owners and drivers to choose responsible car washes that offer a fair wash. That means ones that look after their workers, protect the environment, care for their customers and trade legally.”

Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Unfortunately there remains a number of criminal and unscrupulous operators who use forced labour and/or illegal immigrants to support their activity. These ‘employees’ are often domiciled in appalling conditions and trapped in this horrendous way of life.

“It is so important for customers to only use the service provided by companies that trade legally to stop this exploitation of vulnerable workers. I completely support the Responsible Car Wash initiative, and hope criminal operators are prosecuted and punished accordingly.”

Indicators of worker exploitation include low cost of a wash, cash-only payment options and a lack of protective equipment and clothing being used by workers. The public can be on the alert by downloading The Safe Car Wash app. This asks a series of questions related to signs of modern slavery and helps the user know if they should get in touch with the Modern Slavery Helpline. The app has received 7,500 reports of exploitation concerns and 47% of these have gone through to the helpline since its launch in 2018.

GLAA Head of Prevention and Partnerships Frank Hanson said: “As the foremost investigative agency for labour exploitation and modern slavery in the UK, the GLAA, along with other law enforcement agencies, has uncovered labour exploitation and unsafe working practices at hand car washes.

“Exploiting vulnerable workers is completely unacceptable and we strongly encourage anyone with concerns to report their suspicions so we can investigate and take action.”