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This app is aiming to help car washes to clean up their act on modern slavery

Around 2,000 reports were filed from The Clewer Initiative’s Safe Car Wash app in its first six months since release with 41 per cent finding concrete evidence of slavery

Car wash hero

An app that is used to uncover modern slavery at car washes has uncovered more than 900 instances of forced labour in the UK.

The Safe Car Wash App was launched last June to let drivers report evidence at the source after the industry was identified to have as many as 24,000 enslaved workers.

The tech allows drivers to log the location of the hand car wash on their phone and report any telltale signs – like evidence of workers living on site – which will then be passed on to police.

Results of the app’s first six months since release have been collated by the University of Nottingham’s Rights Labs.

They found that 41 per cent of the 2,000 reports issued through the app showed a likelihood of modern slavery occurring, such as the lack of suitable protective clothing that was apparent in almost half of cases.

A cash-only policy was used in 80 per cent of cases while eight per cent of car washes had minors working and 17 per cent of reports highlighted fearful workers.

The Big Issue recently investigated how homelessness is linked to modern slavery, revealing how homeless people are targeted in hostels and forced to work while living in unsanitary conditions. The Safe Car Wash App also looks for evidence of this, asking users to report nearby caravans, containers, mattresses and bedding, which was on show in 14 per cent of reports.

The Clewer Initiative are behind the app and have also worked with The Big Issue to highlight the signs of modern slavery to vendors as well as talking up the role that they can play in stopping it.

Rev Dr Alastair Redfern, the Clewer Initiative chair, said: “Broadly, this report confirms what we had already surmised. Many hand car washes are suspect and do not protect their workers.

“A lack of protective equipment and fearful and withdrawn body language are far more common than one would hope.”

Councillor Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Reporting any concerns through this app could make a world of difference to people being exploited at the hands of heartless gangmasters.”

However, the results did reveal that reports made in the app are not always corresponding to calls to the Modern Slavery Helpline – the primary method of flagging up cases to law enforcement.

There were 126 calls to the helpline made through the app – which received 335 calls about hand car washes in total over the period – with only 18 per cent of users being asked to call.

Rev Redfern added: “That so many people downloaded and used the Safe Car Wash app is indeed an encouraging sign, but we obviously have more work to do in understanding why some people may be reluctant to report what they have seen.”

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