Modern slavery is hidden in plain sight on our high streets. The National Crime Agency thinks there are tens of thousands of people being exploited in the UK, forced to work long hours, for little or no pay, and under threat of violence.
Some of those people are being exploited in hand car washes, which in recent years have sprung up across the country in their thousands. Many of those hand car washes are legitimate businesses, but some of them are not. Police raids in hand car washes in towns and cities up and down the country have unearthed victims living in horrendous conditions.
Although law enforcement and the government are clear that this problem exists, there is no reliable data on just how widespread it is. This lack of information means that victims could be falling through the net, becoming more enmeshed in the cycle of exploitation. We have spoken to the police, the National Crime Agency and the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority about how the church can help them solve this; how we can bring these hidden victims into the light.
How will it work?
We are developing an app, which can be downloaded for free onto your smartphone. If you are using a hand car wash, or simply walking past one, you can open the app and complete a short survey about the working conditions of the car wash. If we think you have reason to believe that exploitation is going on, we will ask you to report it to the Modern Slavery Helpline, a specialist helpline which provides 24/7 confidential advice and support to those concerned about modern slavery. The information will also be immediately shared with the National Crime Agency, to help them with their investigations.
Join the mailing list to be the first to find out when the app launches.
Why are we doing this?
It’s tempting to ignore this problem, leave it to the police to deal with. But the reality is we are talking about real people who are trapped in exploitation, perhaps living under the threat of violence, with nowhere to turn. We cannot be indifferent to the suffering around us, in our own communities, and as the Church we cannot turn away from our neighbour who may be in need. Instead we must turn to them and say ‘we see you’. That’s why we need you to help make sure hand car washes in England are safe for everyone.
How can I get involved?
We will be officially launching the campaign in June, but you can start planning your involvement now. Sign up to our mailing list to make sure you’re the first to know when the app launches. If you’re not a smartphone user, we will also have digital resources available to help you spread the word.
When we launch the campaign we would love to have a network of events going on around the country to make sure as many people know about it as possible. Why not talk to your church or community about whether you could host an event to promote the campaign? For example you could host a community car wash to raise awareness of the issue or dedicate your church service to learning about modern slavery.