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. They suspect many of them are working in terrible conditions in car washes as police have unearthed this kind of exploitation in garages throughout the country.
To combat the problem, drivers are being encouraged to join a national information-gathering campaign launched by the Church of England and the Catholic Church in an app.
The Safe Car Wash app will allow drivers to log where they are washing their car and answer a series of questions which could help identify if the staff have been trafficked.
This could vary from saying whether the workers have suitable protective clothing to any personal indicators such as staff seeming withdrawn.
The questions will be:
Do the workers have access to suitable protective clothing? Look out for gloves and boots.
Is there evidence of workers living on site? Can you see a caravan or mattresses and bedding?
Does anyone appear controlling or intimidating?
Does the body language of the workers appear withdrawn or fearful?
Do there appear to be minors working at the car wash?
Did you pay less than £6.70 for the car wash?
Does the car wash only accept cash?
Did they offer a receipt?
Did you have to pay the manager?
Users can open the app when they are at the car wash and pinpoint their exact location using GPS.
If the answers indicate a high likelihood, users will be directed to the Modern Slavery Helpline.
Anti-slavery campaigners and the police and councils are backing the Safe Car Wash App.
Data from the app will be anonymised and shared with the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
Clergy will also be asked to raise awareness of the campaign in sermons and Sunday School lessons and hold events to publicise the app.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "Over the last few years we have learnt more about the evil of modern slavery and we have begun to understand how it is perpetrated in our communities in plain sight.
"Through the Safe Car Wash App we now have a chance to help tackle this scourge which is damaging so many people's lives."
Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: "I welcome this very helpful and timely initiative in an area of real exploitation. As we learn to see this example of forced labour and modern slavery in our midst, we will also become more aware of the presence of this evil scourge in other sectors in our neighbourhood."
Will Kerr, Director of Vulnerabilities for the National Crime Agency (NCA), said: "This App will help to engage the public in identifying car washes, where slavery is suspected, and will also help law enforcement identify those people who may be at risk, as well as those criminals who are exploiting the vulnerable."
Roger Bannister, interim Chief Executive for the GLAA, said: "The Safe Car Wash App is a great way of utilising the technology so many of us have become accustomed to and the GLAA are happy to be working alongside The Clewer Initiative and the Santa Marta Group on this important piece of work."
Kevin Hyland, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner said: "The value of this app is that in addition to immeasurably improving the lives of victims of modern slavery being cruelly exploited in car washes today, it also empowers a community to act."
Professor Zoe Trodd, Director of the Rights Lab, a University of Nottingham Beacon of Excellence, said: "Car washes are completely unregulated territory and we don't know how big the sector is, how many hand car washes operate or how many persons are registered to work in them.
"This citizen engagement in data collection is a powerful technique with potential for mapping other vulnerable services such as nail bars."
The App is also endorsed by the National Police Chiefs' Council, the Local Government Association and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
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