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Spot the signs of modern slavery at a car wash

Have you ever looked at a product or service and wondered how it could be so cheap? 

The reality is that cheap prices often come at a horrific human cost:

  • The bargain builders? Someone like Cristian, earning a pittance for working tough, long days in construction, unable to leave because of threats of violence and living in an overcrowded caravan out the back.
  • The £5 car wash down the road? That’s made possible by Karel, earning a pittance for working tough, long days and living in an overcrowded caravan out the back. He would leave, but the car wash owners have taken his documents, beaten him and threatened to hurt his family back in Poland.   
  • Getting your nails done for less than a tenner? That's because Bian and the other ladies in the salon don't get paid for the hours they work. Held by threats of brutal punishment if they try to escape and forced to move around the country by the criminal gangs who control them.

The demand for cheap goods, cheap labour and cheap sex has created the perfect storm for human trafficking across the world. 

Here in the UK thousands of people are forced into lives they didn’t ask for every day.

man in car wash

The man in this image is a model. Stories are based on real-life experiences but names have been changed. We want to raise awareness of people being exploited for cheap labour and services. This is happening in every community in the UK. 

Here to help

Modern slavery is often hidden in plain sight, happening in our streets, towns and villages.  You can help us tackle this horrific crime by reporting anything that concerns you.

Our confidential Modern Slavery Referral Helpline on 0300 303 8151 is open 24/7.

The Salvation Army provides specialist support for all adult victims of modern slavery in England and Wales.

Everyone The Salvation Army supports has access to a wide range of specialist services to meet their individual needs whether that is within a safehouse or through outreach support.

Karel's story

Karel was living with his family in Poland. He is in his early 20’s and keen to earn money but there weren’t many prospects in his home town. He was therefore interested when he heard of work opportunities in the UK. He signed up in Poland and arrangements were made to bring him into the UK by coach.   

When he arrived, the work turned out to be in car washes but his living and working conditions were terrible and he received hardly any money for the long hours he was forced to work. Whenever he spoke to his traffickers about how badly he was being treated, they responded by threatening to kick him out onto the streets with no money, no ID documents and nowhere to stay. They even made threats of violence to him and his family back in Poland, claiming they knew his home address and would hurt his relatives if he didn’t comply. They also showed him a collection of weapons that they said they would use on anyone who went against them.

After eight months Karel eventually found the courage to run away and went to the police. He was referred to The Salvation Army for support. Specialist staff assessed his situation and made arrangements for him to be transported to a safe place, away from the area his traffickers were operating in. He was looked after in a safehouse for several months. 

When Karel arrived at the safe house he had very few belongings with him as he’d had to flee his traffickers quickly.  We provided him with clothing and shoes. He also received a weekly allowance and was linked into medical support. 

We also helped him to recover some of his identification documents as everything had been lost or taken away by his traffickers. When our staff asked Karel what he wanted to do next, he said that he would like to return to Poland to be with his mother. We helped him get a temporary passport to be able to return home as well as applying for a UK national insurance number as his long-term plan is to return to the UK at a later stage. Support staff gave Karel information and advice to help safeguard him in the choices he makes in the future and better prepared to work legitimately in the UK. 

How you can help

  • Many companies now have a Modern Slavery Statement on their website. This is a quick and easy way to check that the brands you are supporting are taking steps to remove slave labour from their workforce. Find out more
  • Learn how to spot the signs
  • If you're concerned, phone our 24/7 confidential Modern Slavery referral helpline on 0300 303 8151.
  • Donate to The Salvation Army and provide essential support to the thousands of people still caught in slavery today. Donate now.
  • Volunteer to help victims of modern slavery get the support they need and deserve. Find out more.

Read more about our work in Modern Slavery.