Chances are good that within 100 yards of most locations in London, someone being held in some form of slavery. A new app will help people stay alert and be aware of the various guises modern slavery takes.

Car washes are notorious for using slave labor, according to church charities waging a new campaign. The Safe Car Wash app is the brainchild of the Anglican Clewer Initiative and the Roman Catholic Santa Marta Group.

Estimates of people held in slavery in Britain vary widely. An estimated 18,000 people are exploited as car-wash employees. While many of these businesses are legitimate, some threaten workers and trap them in modern slavery.

The app pinpoints the location of questionable car washes. It shows indicators of modern slavery: signs can include workers lacking appropriate protective clothing and shoes, and people in forced servitude often appear nervous and withdrawn.

The app helps users link to the Modern Slavery Helpline. Data from the app is shared with the National Crime Agency and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.

Modern slavery takes many forms in the United Kingdom. Young women from countries like Albania can be lured to London by prospects of well-paid work. These women are locked up, beaten, and starved until they agree to become sex workers.

Nail salons often enslave attractive young women who have been trafficked. Church people need to be alert to cases of domestic servitude. A typical case may be a young African woman. She may attend church, seated between two adults and never allowed to mix with other worshipers. In fact, she may be held in domestic servitude, perhaps by members of her extended family based in London.

London’s metropolitan slavery unit receives 1,600 referrals each year. It has warned that modern slavery in Britain is burgeoning. In the days of William Wilberforce’s campaign against the international slave trade, to secure someone for the transatlantic slave trade would have cost £20,000 in today’s money. Today, £150 will cover the cost of a one-way airline ticket from many European cities to London.

The Salvation Army has long fought exploitation of women as sex workers. It helps former sex slaves obtain new identities and vocational training. In 1885, it worked with journalist W.T. Stead of The Pall Mall Gazette, who is often hailed as the founder of investigative journalism. He was jailed under a technicality, having purchased 13-year-old Eliza Armstrong with the intention of setting her free. His campaign eventually led to raising the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16.

John Martin

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