Reports of slavery in British car washes fail to trigger arrests | Global development
Since the UK’s modern slavery helpline was launched nearly two years ago, 473 potential cases in car washes have been reported by the public by phone or online, with 2,170 potential victims identified and 401 individual cases referred to law enforcement agencies. Yet only one case has resulted in arrests.
Darryl Dixon, director of strategy at the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, said expectation that referrals will automatically lead to arrests and convictions must be tempered.
“It’s important to understand that the highest level of referrals won’t lead to the highest level of successful investigations,” said Dixon. “Of the referrals we get to car washes, 62% are what we would term vague information, such as the workers didn’t look happy.”
Dixon said the authority received 178 referrals of potential car wash slavery last year. Of the 34 investigations opened as a result, 28 were closed and only six are ongoing.
“Only one case led to arrests,” he added. “There is exploitation across many sectors and we do have to be careful to prioritise investigations according to urgency and need.”
Calls by members of the public relating to suspected cases of slavery and exploitation in hand car washes account for 27% of all reports to the helpline since its inception in October 2016. The helpline also received reports of potential modern slavery in hospitality, agriculture, nail bars and construction.
Phil Brewer, head of the Metropolitan police’s modern slavery and kidnap unit, said that despite the low conviction rate for modern slavery offences, many cases investigated brought to light exploitation.
“Cheap car wash services require cheap labour with little or no regard for the health and safety of the people working there,” said Brewer.
“Although not every case reported to police via the helpline may result in the uncovering of modern slavery offences, we do discover poor working and living conditions and owners paying employees far below the minimum wage. This is exploitation.”
Although reports of potential labour abuses came from every region across the UK, 48 cases – involving 266 potential victims – came from the Greater London area.
“Calls concerning modern slavery in car washes are by far the most prevalent type of call we are receiving through the helpline, yet, even if the numbers appear to be high, we’re concerned it’s probably only the tip of the iceberg in terms of actual cases,” said Justine Currell, chief executive of Unseen UK, the organisation that runs the helpline.
“Often, potential cases in car washes are easier to spot than in other sectors also affected by modern slavery, like hospitality or construction, and the media attention on this issue has also helped.”
This week, the environmental audit committee held a second evidence session for its hand car washes inquiry, which is examining the indicators of modern slavery in car washes identified by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner last year.
- Suspected cases of modern slavery can be reported to the national modern slavery helpline on 08000 121 700