Officers from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and Durham Constabulary have raided a car wash site in Burnopfield following allegations the workers there were being exploited.
Two Albanian men, aged 32 and 42, were arrested on suspicion of modern slavery offences.
A number of potential victims were spoken to and were offered help and advice from a range of agencies, including the Salvation Army and the Red Cross. Three male victims, two Latvian and one Romanian, opted into the National Referral Mechanism, which means they will be given continued help and support over the next three months.
The suspects have been released under investigation as enquiries continue.
Dave Powell, GLAA senior investigating officer, said: “We have visited this car wash before as part of our general enquiries. We will not hesitate to revisit businesses if we receive new intelligence suggesting workers are being exploited.
“Our investigation will now continue and we will speak to a range of witnesses – our main priority is the safety of the victims, who now have a wide range of help and advice available to them.”
According to GLAA, hand car washes are one of the main industries where labour exploitation occurs. They are usually run by migrants for migrants and employers target vulnerable victims, often making them work up to 12-hour shifts, up to seven days a week.
Romanian victims are most commonly linked to hand car washes, but other nationalities are affected too. Working conditions at some car washes are also sometimes unsafe and dangerous with no appropriate clothing or equipment for workers.