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What is the true human cost of your £5 hand car wash?

Categories: Articles:Asylum & Refugees, Articles:Social Justice | Published: 19/07/2018 | Views: 761

The Guardian reports on the rise in hand car washes and their link with human trafficking and modern slavery.

The UK’s hand car washes tend to be extremely competitive with pricing, but they have also been linked to modern slavery. Are they ever fair for workers?

One night in August 2015, after a long shift at the Bubbles car wash in east London, Sandu Laurentiu was washing himself in the rat-infested shared flat provided by his employer. Shaip Nimani, 53, originally from Kosovo, had illegally bypassed the electricity meter at the property in Bethnal Green and tampered with the fuses to stop them blowing. The plumbing in the damp bathroom was not earthed. While he used the decrepit power shower, Laurentiu was electrocuted and killed.
The death of the 40-year-old Romanian labourer renewed concern about conditions at thousands of hand car washes across the country. The washes, which have mushroomed in petrol stations, car parks and empty forecourts, offer cleaning for as little as £5. Often they employ as many as a dozen workers and are open for up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. There are suspicions of minimum wage, environmental, planning, and health and safety violations, tax evasion – as well as labour exploitation and modern slavery.

Last year, Nimani received a four-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter. But, three years after Laurentiu’s death, and more than a decade after car washes started to become a common sight, the response to the problem is only now gathering pace. Last month, the environmental audit committee (EAC) heard the first oral evidence at an inquiry into hand car washes. MPs will spend weeks hearing from academics, industry representatives and regulators.

Raids on suspected hand car washes are becoming more common. In the past month, police have swooped on sites in Somerset and Manchester. A raid at the end of June on a car wash in Newport in South Wales, ended in tragedy when Sudanese worker Mustafa Dawood, who was 23, fled on to the roof of a neighbouring factory and fell to his death. The Independent Office for Police Conduct is investigating the incident.  
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