November 21, 2018, by htaylor
Rights Lab research used in parliamentary report on hand car washes
By Dr Akilah Jardine
Dr Akilah Jardine, a Research Associate in the Rights Lab has been carrying out research into labour exploitation in hand car washes (HCWs). This type of set-up has attracted a lot of attention in the UK over recent months as investigations by law enforcement bodies have unearthed numerous labour, employment, health and safety, and environment violations.
Earlier this year, Dr Jardine and colleagues at the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham (UoN) submitted evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) who launched an inquiry into the social and environmental impact of HCWs. Subsequently she was called to give oral evidence in parliament. Recently, EAC published their report on HCWs citing Dr Jardine’s evidence submission. Last month, she also published a joint report with her colleagues at UoN and the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner exploring the extent of labour exploitation and modern slavery in HCWs.
Here, Dr Jardine talks about the EAC report, her recent report findings, and the murky world of labour exploitation.
“Last month, to coincide with Anti-Slavery Day, we recently published a joint research report on the nature and prevalence of labour exploitation in HCWs in the UK, in collaboration with the Rights Lab and the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC).
Our research focused on the extent to which labour exploitation meets the threshold for modern slavery and human trafficking, how different police authorities are affected and responding to this issue and the ways in which labour exploitative practices in HCWs can best be tackled. Our research found that HCWs and labour and employment violations committed within them are widespread across the UK. They include violations around health and safety issues, working time regulations, working conditions and minimum wage payments. Our research findings suggest that workers in HCWs are likely to suffer some form of labour or employment violation and that the average wage for a day’s work is £40. However, our report found that labour exploitation in HCWs does not rigidly fit into a specific category, but rather there is a continuum of exploitation.
In May, the Environmental Audit Committee launched an inquiry into the social and environmental impact of HCWs in the UK. As lead researcher on the Rights Lab and IASCs labour exploitation in HCW research project, I submitted written evidence with Dr. Alexander Trautrims, and Dr. Alison Gardner, and subsequently was called to give oral evidence in parliament in June.
Questions by the Committee centred around the signs of exploitation taking place in HCWs, the seriousness of labour exploitation and the extent to which it constitutes modern slavery, the effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA), and whether the problem was as a result of lack of regulation or rather, inadequate enforcement of regulations.
Key points raised included: the difficulty in assessing the number of HCW operations in the UK, and moreover the number alleged to be exploiting workers, the continuum of exploitation where worker abuse meet the threshold for modern slavery, and on the other hand, where workers do not see themselves as victim, and HCWs not falling within the scope of the Modern Slavery Act, as section 54 on transparency in supply chains, specifically applies to businesses with an annual turnover of £36 million or more. Our evidence also highlighted the need for a system to register and license HCWs operations to improve data visibility and compliance in this sector. Sectors such as HCWs, that are labour-intensive and utilise cheap, low-skill labour, are often susceptible to exploitative labour and employment practices, in addition to violating a host of other regulations. Like other businesses there are a number of regulations HCWs should adhere to but lack of enforcement of regulations have allowed such operations to flourish without almost any regulatory overview.
HCWs are not illegitimate business activities, but unregulated operations not only threaten workers’ rights, but they are essentially undercutting an entire legitimate sector, including Automated Car Washes, and compliant HCWs, and much more should be done to clean up this sector. I am thrilled that the Committee has probed into a sector that has so far been able to flourish almost without any regulatory overview and I am happy that my colleagues and I in the Rights Lab were able to have some direct policy impact.”