MPs call to regulate car washes to prevent ‘modern slavery in plain sight’

A licensing scheme should be launched for hand car washes to stop workers being exploited, MPs are urging.

Thousands of cheap hand car washes have sprung up in the past 15 years on car parks and disused forecourts, but they often do not pay the minimum wage or holiday pay, the Environmental Audit Committee said.

Research suggests the car washes are linked to trafficking for labour exploitation, said the MPs’ report, adding: “This is modern slavery in plain sight on Britain’s streets.”

The committee said the Government should trial a licensing scheme for hand car washes and review whether the Modern Slavery Act could be updated to cover the sector.

Mary Creagh, who chairs the committee, said: “Hand car washes are a common sight in our towns and cities. Yet, they hide the widespread exploitation of workers through illegally low pay, poor working conditions and, in some cases, forced labour.

“We were astonished and dismayed to discover that there have only been 14 minimum wage prosecutions since 1999. The Government must target the sector and prosecute exploitative employers. This would send a strong signal that worker exploitation has no place in the UK.”

The MPs also raised fears of risks to water quality through waste water being allowed to flow into drains.

Ms Creagh added: “Regulators seem to turn a blind eye to breaches of planning and environmental regulations at hand car washes.

“Being labelled as ‘low risk’ must not mean hand car washes are given a permit to pollute. Councils, police and central government must work together to tackle labour and environmental abuses at hand car washes.”

Use of migrant labour has led to widespread practices of undercutting labour standards, said the committee, adding that car washes are one of the most commonly reported sites of worker exploitation.

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