Beyond checking for concrete and prices below £6, what can drivers do to avoid potentially problematic car washes? Frazer, who believes £9 is a reasonable minimum price for a basic wash, advises checking for the overall quality of a site. “If it’s being held together with bits of string, that’s another indicator,” she says. Nearby caravans or signs of on-site accommodation are a potential concern, as is an absence of receipts.
While the scale of the problem remains largely unknown, and workers themselves report being reluctant to raise the alarm, drivers are being recruited to help identify problem sites. The church is playing an unlikely role; the Anglican and Catholic churches in England have backed a new Safe Car Wash phone app. It asks drivers for a site’s location and name (if there is one), followed by a series of questions about it and its workers. It encourages drivers not to confront workers. Instead, the Church of England’s Clewer Initiative against anti-slavery, which launched the app on 4 June, shares the data with the National Crime Agency and the GLAA, among other authorities. If answers to the questions about safety gear and other observations suggests a potential problem, users are also encouraged to contact the Modern Slavery Helpline.
“Too often we rush in, you’re on your phone and see all this activity, you give your £6 and drive off,” says Alastair Redfern, the bishop of Derby, who works on anti-slavery projects in the church and the House of Lords. “We’re just saying, please stop and think first.” The Clewer Initiative says the app was downloaded more than 5,000 times in its first month, while the charity Unseen, which runs the slavery helpline, said last week that 11 cases indicating 69 potential victims had been reported to it through the app.
But concern about car washes that may be contravening one or several laws and regulations should not lead to assumptions about all such businesses, Frazer adds. There are legitimate businesses that offer competitive prices. That some car washes might have sub-standard drainage does not necessarily mean they are fronts of organised crime. “And if workers look a bit bedraggled, it doesn’t mean it’s all to do with modern slavery – you cannot generalise in that way,” Frazer adds.