The Car Wash Association (CWA) has welcomed a church anti-slavery initiative, the Safe Car Wash App, that was launched this week, but has said the government needs to do far more to tackle the issue.

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Car Wash Association, commented: “For too long, government agencies have turned a blind eye to the flagrant breaches of environmental law and tax compliance by hand car washes.

“It is time the Environment Agency and HMRC were told to step up and close down the hand car wash operations of the slave masters. The government says it wants to wipe out modern slavery, but the political will and resources to tackle the scourge appear to be lacking. It is not a challenge that can be met by the churches alone.

“Nowhere else in Europe has this hand car wash slavery problem been allowed to arise. Wherever else you look – from Germany to Belgium to Scotland – there are binding environmental regulations which hand car washes must follow. With our so-called smart environmental regulations, criminal gangs from elsewhere in Europe see England and Wales as a soft touch and have set up their slavery operations here with impunity.”

The Safe Car Wash App was launched by the Church of England and the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

It enables drivers using a car wash to flick through a series of slavery indicators such as whether the car wash only accepts cash, evidence of workers living on site or whether the workers seem fearful.

If the answers indicate a high likelihood of slavery, users will be directed to a modern slavery helpline.

“Over the last few years we have learnt more about the evil of modern slavery and we have begun to understand how it is perpetrated in our communities in plain sight,” the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in a statement.

“Through the Safe Car Wash App we have a chance to help tackle this scourge which is damaging so many people’s lives.”

“The value of this app is that in addition to immeasurably improving the lives of victims of modern slavery being cruelly exploited in car washes today, it also empowers a community to act,” Britain’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland said in a statement.

Car washes accounted for the most forced labour cases referred to Britain’s modern slavery helpline last year, making up a quarter of about 700 cases, according to charity Unseen.