Anti-slavery campaigners and other key agencies, including the police and councils, are backing the Safe Car Wash App, launched by The Clewer Initiative, the Church of England’s campaign against modern slavery, and the Santa Marta Group, the Catholic Church’s anti-slavery project.
From Monday, 4 June the Safe Car Wash app can be downloaded for free on to Apple and Android devices.
Users can open the app when they are at a car wash and pinpoint their exact location using GPS.
They will be then taken through a series of indicators of modern slavery.
They range from practical details - such as whether workers have suitable protective clothing - to behavioural clues, such as whether they appear withdrawn.
If the answers indicate a high likelihood, users will be directed to the Modern Slavery Helpline.
Data from the app will be anonymised and shared with the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
Clergy will also be asked to raise awareness of the campaign in sermons and Sunday School lessons and hold events to publicise the app.
Estimates now suggest that there are more than 18,000 in Britain’s high streets, at the sides of motorways, and on abandoned garage forecourts.
Many are run as legitimate businesses, but some exploit, force and threaten their workers, trapping them in modern slavery.
No reliable data currently exists as to the scale of the problem, with the result that subsequent responses have proved inadequate.
Kevin Hyland, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner said: “The value of this app is that in addition to immeasurably improving the lives of victims of modern slavery being cruelly exploited in car washes today, it also empowers a community to act.”
Professor Zoe Trodd, Director of the Rights Lab, a University of Nottingham Beacon of Excellence, said: “Car washes are completely unregulated territory and we don’t know how big the sector is, how many hand car washes operate or how many persons are registered to work in them. This citizen engagement in data collection is a powerful technique with potential for mapping other vulnerable services such as nail bars.”
The App is also endorsed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Local Government Association and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.