The Archbishop of Canterbury and other senior Church figures have identified the UK’s network of hand car washes as hotbeds of modern slavery.
New figures suggest that some 24,000 workers at 18,000 garage washes could be victims of slavery or are being exploited in another way.
At the weekend Archbishop Justin Welby and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, launched a mobile phone app through which users of car washes can report concerns they have to the police.
“We have begun to understand how the evil of modern slavery is perpetrated in our communities in plain sight,” Mr Welby said.
Police in east Kent have carried out a number of raids into modern slavery in the last two years.
In December of 2016, officers raided a car wash firm with outlets in Chartham, Broad Oak Road and Hersden.
The firm’s boss was also arrested at his north Canterbury home.
No charges against him or anyone have else have ever been brought although the case remains officially open.
Hand car washes have gradually replaced machines as the most popular way to have vehicles cleaned.
Users of car washes are being asked to download the Safe Car Wash app to their phones in order to report any suspicions they may have.
They are asked to note if the car wash costs less than £6.70, if workers are wearing appropriate clothing and if there are caravans containing mattresses or bedding on the site.
The Nottingham University Business School will analyse data from the app. It provides the figure that there could be 24,000 exploited workers in hand car washes.
Independent anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland says police have been too slow to act in the past and called for a boycott of businesses believed to be exploiting workers.
He said: “The very presence of these hand car washes on our high streets means we are ignoring it in our own back yard.
“We haven’t looked at it for what it is, which is serious organised crime.”