Bedfordshire Police and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have carried out targeted visits at a number of car washes to combat modern slavery and exploitation.
Car washes in Bedford and Biggleswade were visited by the joint teams on Friday (18 October) which is officially Anti-Slavery Day.
Last year 262 potential victims of modern slavery were referred into the national referral mechanism in Bedfordshire – the fifth highest of all UK police force areas.
Friday’s visits followed an operation carried out by Bedfordshire Police in April around a week of action targeting modern slavery.
During the operation, a number of potential issues around the national minimum wage, employment classification and VAT were identified, with further enquiries by HMRC now due to take place.
Superintendent Dave Cestaro, Bedfordshire Police’s director of intelligence, said, “Modern slavery is an abhorrent crime and, sadly, we know that it still takes place here in Bedfordshire.
“From car washes and nail bars through to logistics, warehouse and construction businesses; we know that vulnerable people in particular are at risk from unscrupulous bosses involved in organised crime.
“We are delighted to have been able to work with HMRC on Anti-Slavery Day and will continue to work with all our partners to protect vulnerable people from being exploited.”
An HMRC spokesperson said, “HMRC is committed to working with other agencies to end illegal working practices in the illicit economy, and clamp down on any unlawful employment conditions for legal migrants and other workers.
“We share intelligence and coordinate prevention and compliance to tackle local risks.”
Sexual exploitation, such as being trafficked and forced to work in the sex industry, and forced labour are the two most common forms of modern slavery dealt with by Bedfordshire Police.
The force is also increasingly coming across so-called criminal exploitation, where both children and adults are forced to work by gangs involved in drug dealing.
Anyone who suspects someone is at risk of modern slavery can contact police on 101 or via the online reporting centre on the Bedfordshire Police website.
They can also speak to the Modern Slavery Helpline confidentially on 08000 121 700.