A new collaborative study between the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham and the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC) will look at labour exploitation in hand car washes. Hand car washes have been a high profile sector with numerous media reports describing endemic exploitation and modern slavery. However, as yet there is no definitive research exploring the nature and prevalence of exploitation within them nor why it has occurred and how it can be solved.

The research project will focus on the true extent of modern slavery and human trafficking in this sector in the UK, and will aim to give a clearer picture of the prevalence of the problem in different areas and rates of exploitation.

The research team comprises Dr Alexander Trautrims and Dr Akilah Jardine from the Rights Lab at the University and Emily Kenway from the office of the Commissioner.

The first phase of the research will analyse existing information so that the extent and nature of labour exploitation within car washes can be assessed.

This information will also be used to look at other factors such as the nationality of workers, their accommodation style, and any other details which help to create a fuller picture of labour exploitation in hand car washes.

The second phase of the research will look at the hand car wash economy in a broader historical and international context. According to previous studies, the hand car wash barely existed before 2004 – why is this? Why are they so popular now?  What does this mean for future trends? And why is the hand car wash is so popular in the UK but barely exists in other similar economies such as France and Germany?

The final phase of the research will look at the business models employed by hand car washes, examining the cost to the public where taxes are unpaid and of related investigations and safeguarding.  It will consider what a business model for a responsible employer would look like in this sector and use this to understand how current exploitative practices can be addressed.

Dr Trautrims said: “We are delighted to undertake this research together with the Commissioner’s Office on a sector of the UK’s economy that is so dangerously unregulated and in which labour exploitation is often part of the business model.”

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland OBE, said: “Hand car washes are a major area of concern for anyone trying to tackle modern slavery in the UK. Numerous reports and investigations have identified problems across the spectrum of labour exploitation.

“I am pleased to be partnering with the University to investigate and analyse this sector properly so that we can better understand the nature of the problem and how to tackle it. This will be an important piece in the puzzle of eradicating modern slavery from British high streets and identify how ethical businesses should prosper.”