Southwark Council investigates modern slavery at hand carwashes

Southwark Council is the first local authority to have screened all of the borough’s hand car washes for health & safety issues and potential modern slavery.

Following approval from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), officers mapped every hand car wash in Southwark; of the 28 potential sites identified, 17 were operational. Officers visited all of them, distributed an information pack of health and safety advice to each business whilst giving verbal advice and signposting operators to further free information.

Two of the 17 premises gave cause for concern with regard to potential modern slavery and for health & safety law compliance. These concerns were reported to the appropriate authorities. Subsequently the HSE visited both sites and made recommendations to the operators and are working to ensure full compliance. The Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) also visited but found no direct evidence of modern slavery at that time and are now monitoring intermittently.

Key health and safety concerns included chemical storage, the proximity of electrical equipment to water and the provision of adequate protective clothing and equipment for workers.

Before inspecting the hand car washes council officers were trained in spotting the signs of modern slavery. They include:

  • young people working, who should be in school
  • workers appearing scared, avoiding eye contact or being untrusting
  • signs of injury, abuse or malnourishment
  • workers appearing unkempt or with poor personal hygiene
  • evidence of sleeping facilities on site
  • evidence of contraband items not normally associated with car washing
  • lack of protective clothing and safety equipment
  • unsafe working conditions
  • workers prevented from handling money
  • a price point below that indicating the workers get minimum wage

How to report concerns of potential modern slavery

As a member of the public:

  • if you consider someone is in immediate danger then call the Police on 999
  • for non-emergency reports of suspicious activity call the Police on 101 or the GLAA on 0800 432 0804
  • to report information anonymously, phone or email Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or contact them on line
  • download Unseen UK’s Modern Slavery App from any App Store. When it is used it makes an anonymous intelligence report to the Modern Slavery Helpline

To make a report as a professional first responder:

More professional advice can be found at:

Useful organisations:

View our Slavery Policy Statement.

Page last updated: 14 May 2019

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