A new collaborative study between experts at the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham and the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, issued today, looks at the true extent and nature of modern slavery and human trafficking in hand car washes in the UK.

This new report aims to provide a better understanding of the type and prevalence of labour exploitation in hand car washes and the challenges and approaches to tackling it.

The team at the University of Nottingham used existing research and information, along with new information from surveys given to police forces’ modern slavery teams and other agencies, to compile their report. They analysed data from a range of sources including press reports, parliamentary evidence submitted to the Environmental Audit Committee and research on exploitation and criminal activity relating to labour issues found at car washes. The end product is a detailed understanding of workers employed in hand car washes, working conditions and the types of accommodation in which they are living enabling key findings and potential next steps.

Like most businesses hand car washes have regulations they should adhere to, but recent investigations and reports have unearthed a host of labour, employment and health and safety, and environmental violations. The UK does not currently have a system to register and license these businesses, meaning they have been able to flourish almost without any regulatory overview.

Key findings of the report include that:


  • Stricter enforcement of current regulations, including labour, employment, health and safety, and environmental policies, is required to ensure that hand car washes are adhering to them;

  • Prosecutions are difficult to pursue due to workers failing to self-identify as victims or state their working condition;

  • Conditions of work, accommodation and methods of control vary significantly, with research suggesting that the average wage for a day’s work is £40;

  • Authorities must be able to distinguish between individuals experiencing lower level forms of labour abuse, those who are experiencing slavery but are consenting due to livelihood constraints and those experiencing slavery and would not consent to these conditions given the opportunity to escape;

  • Some workers return to exploitative hand car washes after being in the National Referral Mechanism;

  • Authorities might wish to consider educating workers about the risks of abusive labour practices and employers on labour and employment policies to which they must adhere.


The report also identifies areas for further investigation, such as improved understanding of workers’ consent and how that interacts with policing, alternative livelihood options post-NRM, whether immigration enforcement is hampering a small portion of anti-slavery hand car wash investigations and the potential for more research regarding routes into hand car washes and whether they constitute trafficking.

It concludes that the hand car wash sector can operate ethically and responsibly, but to do this more work is needed to support willing employers to become compliant, to prosecute those who are not willing to do so and to provide access to remedy for those subject to abuse, including victims of modern slavery.


Click here for the full report.