Tag Archive | "Car washing"

A HOT BED OF MODERN SLAVERY

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A HOT BED OF MODERN SLAVERY


The very fact that, in June 2019, there were more than 1400 active investigations into alleged instances of forced labour across the UK, compared with just 188 in November 2016, is indicative of just how rampant the problem has become recently.

The government’s Annual Modern Slavery Report, published in October, highlights the advanced nature of people trafficking gangs, and the heavy response it’s planning as a means of tackling the ‘hidden crime’. The four Ps – pursue, prevent, protect and prepare – lay at the foundation of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s anti-exploitation masterplan, which is designed to bring an end to the ruthless mistreatment of the up-to-13,000 estimated victims across the UK.

It’s not all taking place backstage, either. Hand car wash users across the country are urged to keep an eye out for timid workers, signs of on-site habitation and improper safety equipment in the search for human trafficking gangs. A lack of regulation in the sector makes it all too easy for victims to go under the radar, and the nature of the work means they’re often subjected to freezing temperatures and rain on a day-to-day basis.

WAKE-UP CALL

The phenomenon was brought to public attention by the tragic death, in 2015, of East London car wash worker Sandy Laurentiu-Sava. The Romanian national was living in squalid conditions above the cheerily named Bubbles car wash in Bethnal Green, and was fatally electrocuted when the flat’s crudely mounted power shower short-circuited. His employer and landlord, Shaip Nimani, was jailed for four years. In the wake of the incident, Sava’s brother said: “It appears to me that the employment laws and rules and regulations in the UK are not strong enough, and that more needs to be done to protect the welfare and wellbeing of foreign nationals, to stop incidents like this happening again.” Some will argue, however, that the recent tragic deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in the back of a lorry in Essex, suggests that not enough is being done.

Charity group Unseen UK aims to put a stop to such incidents, with Head of Communications Tabitha Ross calling it ‘literally a matter of life and death’, in light of the organisation’s Q2 2019 report recording a nine percent increase in labour exploitation compared to the previous three-month period. Its publicly accessible Modern Slavery Helpine has helped to identify 15,000 victims of modern slavery since it was launched in 2016, becoming one of the country’s most vital weapons in the war against labour exploitation, but now faces imminent closure.

Ross says the charity is working to save the threatened resource, and is halfway to its £800,000 fundraising target, with resources in place to ensure continued operation into 2020. She notes, however, that now is ‘a difficult time for helplines’ in general, and that many ‘up and down the country are at risk of closure’. The helpline’s closure would significantly hinder the consumer’s ability to report suspicious activity at car washes, and could open the door for traffickers to set up new car washes, and import more labourers to work at them.

KNOCK-ON EFFECT

Unfortunately, says Brian Madderson, Chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), ‘none of our enforcers seem interested in stopping it,’ and that illicit activity of this nature has found its way into ‘almost every corner of the British Isles’. The PRA represents 70 percent of UK forecourts, and notes a significant downturn in automated car wash trade over the past ten years – a result, so it claims, of the activities of illicit traders. Other countries, Madderson says, ‘are astonished to find that we have up to 20,000 hand car washes across the UK’, where they have none. Aggravating the issue, he says, is the fact that all the equipment and chemicals necessary to running a hand car wash are available from most builders merchants with no need to show any licence or certification.

In 2018, compelled by the government’s inactivity, the Church of England’s anti-slavery arm, the Clewer Initiative, launched a free-to-use ‘Safe Car Wash’ smartphone app, which supplies data from user reports to the National Crime Agency and Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. Any car wash user concerned about employees’ working conditions can answer a series of questions before contacting the Modern Slavery Helpline. The organisation sees employment at a hand car wash as a ‘gateway’ to exploitation for the vulnerable, noting that it’s often an early port of call for people brought from overseas to the UK for work.

Madderson agrees, remarking that, though the hours are long and the conditions far from ideal, car washing ‘requires zero skill’ and brings in at least ‘some money’. For the desperate – and quite often undocumented – worker, it’s the most efficient way of securing a bed and clothing. But, warns The Clewer Initiative, ‘car washes pop up and down without much warning, and may also be cutting corners in other areas’.

ACTION PLAN

The organisation has received more than 2000 reports of suspicious activity since its app launched, helping to identify sites where workers were at risk of abuse. The app’s website, however, notes: “The findings show 126 calls to the Modern Slavery Helpline were made through the app. This is disappointing, as it is only 18% of those who were asked to call.” Madderson, having worked with the app development team, hopes that ‘significant upgrades’ being made to the app will encourage more users to take action. One function being rolled out will offer the location of a nearby, vetted hand car wash, which has been designed to drive business away from trafficking gangs.

Lack of official regulation has put the problem into the hands of consumers and struggling charities, and is taking money away from the regulated car wash sector. It remains to be seen if Anti-Slavery Commissioner Sara Thornton’s bold two-year strategy will have an effect, so for now it’s a case of being on the lookout for wrongdoing, and reporting it where possible.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

– Cash: If a car wash won’t accept a card or issue a receipt, it could indicate financial misconduct, and suggest staff are not being paid properly.

– Lodging: Look out for signs that workers are living on site, or arriving at the same time every morning, as insufficient accommodation is often provided by trafficking gangs.

– Equipment: As the nights draw in and temperatures drop, look for workers with bare hands, soggy trainers and short-sleeved tops.

– Aggression: Car wash bosses could intimidate customers to prevent closer inspection into their practices. Watch for vicious dogs and potential weapons.

– Nervousness: A victim of labour abuse will probably be unwilling to look customers in the eye or handle money, and might have very poor English.

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‘RESPONSIBLE CAR WASH’ SCHEME GOES LIVE

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‘RESPONSIBLE CAR WASH’ SCHEME GOES LIVE


An initiative named the ‘Responsible Car Wash Scheme’ has been launched by the House of Lords.

The Scheme aims to tackle modern slavery and a lack of compliance within the industry. It will target labour abuse and lack of adherence to regulations at hand car washes, whilst enabling consumers to identify a compliant car wash.

Operators who are members of the Scheme will be able to be recognised by consumers as ones who: look after their workers, trade legally, adhere to environmental regulations and take care of their customers and their vehicles.

Darryl Dixon from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority said, “We have seen numerous problems across this industry, from modern day slavery, debt bondage, failure to pay proper wages, through to workers not being provided with any appropriate or personal protective equipment. Whilst enforcement is crucial, education is also essential to both operators, so that they can ensure they operate legally, but also to consumers, so they can make the simple decision of using a legal operator or not. This Scheme is a big step forward in addressing these issues.”

Brian Madderson, Chair of the Car Wash Association gave the scheme a more muted reception: “Whilst this is welcome news and will allow hand car washes to look after their workers, trade legally, adhere to environmental regulations and take care of their customers, it still leaves open the issue of the 20,000 hand car washes in the UK that operate illegally” he said.

“Problems also include environmental damage from mishandling trade effluent, widespread disregard of the National Minimum Wage, modern slavery human trafficking and tax avoidance. Figures suggest that hand car washes are failing to pay taxes, and up to £1.45 billion per year in tax is not being collected by HMRC” concluded Madderson.

The Scheme will provide a resource for operators, providing them with information and guidance so they can operate legally. Once a member of the Scheme, operators will be able to display a Responsible Car Wash Operator logo which will enable consumers to make a clear choice between a fully compliant operator, that has been through the accreditation.

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GOVERNMENT PROBE INTO HAND CAR WASHES

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GOVERNMENT PROBE INTO HAND CAR WASHES


Investigation into hand car washes begins

A parliamentary committee is to look into how damaging hand car washes are to the environment.

The Environmental Audit Committee will examine how the impact of hand car washes differs from automatic ones. It will look at how effective regulation is and what steps central government might take to ensure that these businesses are operated sustainably.

Although the focus of the Committee’s inquiry will be on environmental issues, another body, the Independent Anti- Slavery Commission has produced a list of indications of exploitation at hand car washes, which the Committee will also seek answers for.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “Our inquiry will look at the environmental impact of hand car washes and ask how effective the regulations that govern them are. It will also ask the Government how it is meeting its commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goals to reduce human exploitation.”

Reacting to the news, Brian Madderson, Chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association commented: “The PRA is pleased to see the Committee is holding the Government to account on an industry that is in breach of several regulations.”

“We have been lobbying DEFRA repeatedly over the lack of enforcement regarding the estimated 6,500 cubic metres of chemical trade effluent produced by hand car washes, which pollutes local water courses. We have also met with officials from both the Home Office and the Treasury Select Committee to discuss breaches of the Modern Slavery Act and the millions of pounds lost in tax revenues,” he concluded.

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