CHRISTIANS can help to shed light on the true extent of forced labour across the UK by “noticing the unnoticed” among people and businesses in the parish — starting with car washes.
That is the idea behind a new smartphone app commissioned by the Church of England’s Clewer Initiative, the three-year project to help dioceses to detect modern slavery and support victims (News, 20 October 2017).
The free-to-use app, which is to be launched on Monday, will ask users to answer a short questionnaire on car washes in their area to ensure that the business is legitimate and meets employment regulations. If the car wash appears to indicate signs of forced-labour exploitation, the user will be prompted to report the business to the Modern Slavery Helpline (08000 121 700).
Slavery in the sector is thought to be widespread but largely unreported because of the difficulty and expense of regulating small businesses with casual staff.
This was where C of E parishes can be invaluable, Dr Alastair Redfern, who chairs the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Advisory Panel, says. He has been a vocal campaigner against modern slavery during his tenure as Bishop of Derby. “When people have had the humanity smashed out of them, they need loving,” he said.
“Systems find it difficult to love; Christians can bring that love into systems, into partnerships with those systems, and our parishes are an amazing network of all kinds of people with whom we can do awareness-raising; they become part of the intelligence system, but they can also, some of them, [reach] out towards victims.”
Dr Redfern said that modern society was allowing slavery to flourish. “We are all so busy looking at our small screens, running our lives to suit ourselves, deleting what we don’t like, that we have become very insensitive to what is going on around us,” he said.
“People like us rush in [to car washes] as long as it is cheap; we take the service and rush off. We don’t notice. The app is a model of what we need to do. . .
“If the gospel means anything in our modern world, it means noticing those who have not been noticed — particularly those who have been abused and oppressed and enslaved. That mandate challenges Christians to step up. The police need more eyes and ears and intelligence.”
An estimated 45.8 million people are trapped in forms of modern slavery worldwide, and these include about 11,700 victims in the UK.
Dr Redfern said that the number of people affected was likely to be higher than current estimates, however. “These are just the people who have been noticed, or the systems that seem to be creating slavery. People in this country would say that the figure is vastly greater than the 11,000 or 13,000 people sometimes quoted.
“Even in a place like Derbyshire, we discover instances of slavery in villages in the Peak District, in small areas where little businesses are operating. It is very rampant. And, of course, one of the complexities is that it merges into poor employment practices: a lot of people have zero-hours contracts. . . so there are plenty of grey areas.”
The car-wash app was designed by Kore (the agency who designed the new C of E website), and built by Pale Blue Dot. The data collected by the app over the first six months will be analysed by the Rights Lab, of the University of Nottingham, which will help to produce a report on the extent of forced labour in UK car washes.
A spokeswoman for the Clewer Initiative said: “To get the right indicators of modern slavery in hand car washes, we consulted the National Crime Agency, the police, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, and Unseen, who run the Modern Slavery Helpline.”
Download the app here: https://www.theclewerinitiative.org/safe-car-wash-app/