Tackling labour abuse and modern slavery in the hand car wash sector

It has been said that modern slavery is hidden, but often in plain sight. Hand car washes are a good example of this and have been a particular area of focus. In recent years, the sector has become common in our high streets and communities, but local residents may be unwittingly using victims of labour exploitation or even modern slavery to wash their cars.


At the end of 2017, the Local Government Association (LGA) and Independent Anti- Slavery Commissioner published the first guidance1 for councils on tackling modern slavery. This was supported by a series of regional workshops for councillors and council officers which discussed the different ways in which councils may be able to disrupt slavery and support its victims.

Since then, the LGA has continued to work with our member authorities, partner organisations and the Home Office to strengthen and develop this agenda. We have developed a collection of case studies highlighting councils’ work on modern slavery, as well as a councillor guide to the issue.

It has been said that modern slavery is hidden, but often in plain sight. Hand car washes are a good example of this and have been a particular area of focus. In recent years, the sector has become common in our high streets and communities, but local residents may be unwittingly using victims of labour exploitation or even modern slavery to wash their cars: the industry has been identified by a number of organisations as a high-risk sector for labour abuse.

Building on his predecessor’s call for a pilot licensing scheme for hand car washes, the current interim Director of Labour Market Enforcement, Matthew Taylor, recently argued in favour of a council-led licensing scheme for hand car washes. In response, the LGA has said that if hand car washing is to be licensed, there must be a proper debate about where the responsibility most appropriately fits and how to ensure it is fully funded by licence fees.

However, in the meantime, the LGA has been involved in supporting initiatives aimed both at increasing awareness of the risk of slavery in hand car washes as well as increasing standards within the sector. This guidance is intended to provide an overview of this work, and to bring clarity to the role that councils and other organisations can play within the current regulatory framework, pending any new system of oversight being introduced. 

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