A multi-agency operation to tackle potential offences of slavery and human trafficking was carried out at a car wash on Molesey Road, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, on Wednesday, 23 November.
Surrey Police said the initiative, Operation Cloudburst, was targeting offences associated with organised crime and known to have links with car wash centres nationally.
The operation took place in cooperation with a number of partner agencies including the National Crime Agency (NCA), UK Immigration Services, Elmbridge Borough Council, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
The clampdown focused on establishing the status of the workers to see if any were victims of human trafficking or were being exploited through slavery, poor living conditions or low and non-existent wages.
As a result of the checks, the owner of the car wash was arrested and is currently bailed, two people have been referred to Immigration Enforcement, with 14 people found working there currently being safeguarded. Along with this, £5,000 was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Detective inspector Gary Patterson said: “Many hand car washes are legitimately run and I would like to thank those car wash operators who cooperate with us. Those sites that aren’t operated legally can have a significant impact on our communities and it is our duty to keep people safe from harm.
“Wednesday’s activity provided an opportunity for car wash employees to speak safely and confidentially to police and other enforcement agencies regarding their status and working conditions. We had the opportunity to discover exactly what the premises are being used for and can take appropriate action to ensure legitimate trading is taking place.
“I would appeal to members of the public to inform us if they have any concerns about such sites, whether those concerns relate to immigration, exploitation of individuals, minimum wage or the hidden economy.
“If you get your car washed at a site and the price seems too good to be true, ask yourself what’s the real cost and is anyone being exploited in the process?”
Paul Lillywhite, head of the NCA’s Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit said: “Modern slavery is a crime that exploits the most vulnerable people in our society, often in the form of labour exploitation. The NCA is committed to working with partners across law enforcement to pursue the criminals involved in this vile trade in human misery.”