Don't turn a blind eye to hand car wash exploitation, say MPs

Washing a car Image copyright Justin Sullivan/Getty

The government has been urged to "not turn a blind eye to" the exploitation of workers in hand car washes.

The plea came after the government rejected a call for a trial licensing scheme to try to tackle the issue.

The Environmental Audit Committee said it had found "widespread and alarming breaches" of employment and environmental laws at hand car washes.

"It is disappointing that the ministers have opted for a pilot approach that is voluntary," EAC chair Mary Creagh said.

The government accepted two of the EAC's recommendations from its report which found that cheap hand car washes exploit workers and damage the environment.

Ministers agreed to:

  • Write to major supermarkets to remind them of their environmental duties when disposing of dirty water
  • Update the pollution prevention guidance on the government website

Cheap hand car washes now account for 80% of the sector in the UK.

They have grown rapidly over the past 15 years, and are often in car parks and disused forecourts.

MPs said 27% of cases recorded by the Modern Slavery Helpline in 2017 about labour exploitation, concerned car wash workers.

Dawn Frazer, managing director of Car Wash Advisory Services (CWAS), which represents a range of car wash businesses, told the BBC she was "really disappointed" by the government's decision.

CWAS operates a "Wash Mark" scheme to denote a company which is meeting required standards.

"We visit every site, that's the only way we are ever able to stamp out issues," she said.

The government's voluntary scheme would rely on firms to self report on how they were performing, which she believed would be ineffective.

Industry body The Car Wash Association said up to 20,000 "rogue hand car washes" were believed to be operating in the UK.

"We are being given words of reassurance, but what we need is firm action against the modern slave owners who evade taxes and exploit vulnerable workers," said chair Brian Madderson.

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