Raising awareness of unethical car washes

Our campaign highlighted the issue of non-compliance in hand car washes (HCWs), both to car wash owners/managers and to drivers. We created an Out of Home (OOH) campaign as well as raising awareness of the issue through regional media.

T he Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS) is a not-for-profit organisation. Founded with support from the Home Office, the Police, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and the Anti-Slavery Commission, its aim is to raise standards and promote compliance at car washes across the UK.

The HCW sector has consistently been identified as an industry where workers are at risk of exploitation, ranging from poor working conditions to modern day slavery. Many operate from unsuitable premises that discharge dangerous effluent into watercourses and where staff are given ineffective protective equipment when handling dangerous or corrosive cleaning materials. Legitimate businesses are often undercut by those breaking the law, creating an unfair competitive landscape.


RCWS scheduled a number of visits to hand car washes in Norfolk and Suffolk – identified by police as potentially non-compliant sites. The aim was to ascertain the extent of non-compliance and inform business owners of their obligations. Findings from the visits would be fed into a report being compiled by Nottingham Trent University (NTU) for the Home Office Modern Slavery Prevention Fund, to help prove the case for mandatory HCW licensing.

RCWS also wanted to highlight its findings to the wider public and ensure that car wash owners were made aware that their operations were under scrutiny. To achieve, the campaign needed to encourage more consumers to recognise and report illegal operations through the Safe Car Wash app, created by The Clewer Initiative to enable the public to gather information about hand car washes in the UK.


We devised a highly visual and localised Out of Home (OOH) campaign, supported by media relations: billboard and bus stop advertisements in strategic locations would run alongside interviews with local media to highlight poor practice and non-compliant behaviour.


We booked sites as close to the named HCWs as possible. Where billboards were not available, we pinpointed the best routes on local bus services and secured space on bus sides. To achieve this, we worked with three specialist OOH companies: Global Outdoor, Clearchannel and Billboard Media.

With our partners Fablr, we designed the visuals listing the signs of non-compliance that motorists should look out for. The headline, “illegal car washes are operating in this area” also served to warn HCW owners that they were on the radar.

The design included a call to action prompting consumers to log their concerns on the Safe Car Wash app. The data collated was made available to the police and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.

Media Relations

We gained quotes from local police forces to strengthen the regional press releases, which were pitched to local, national and broadcast media.

When news hit of a storm that had covered cars in red sand, we used this as an additional responsive pitching angle: people looking to have their cars cleaned at a local HCW should ensure it is compliant.

“Fourth Day really was an extension of our team. They provided so much more than media relations. They consulted with stakeholders, managed social media and pulled together an effective Out of Home campaign. The stats show that the campaign successful raised awareness of the issues and what RCWS was trying to achieve.”
Teresa Sayers MD of the RCWS

At a glance:

  • 250% increase in number of reports made by consumers via Safe Car Wash App following billboard campaign
  • Increased brand visibility securing coverage across national, regional and trade media
  • Gained national recognition with the issue of hand car wash licensing referenced in Prime Minister's Questions

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The number of reports made by consumers via the Safe Car Wash App, in the areas covered by the billboard and bus ad campaigns, showed a significant increase.


In the month following the campaign, Norfolk registered 31 reports and Suffolk 22. This compares to eight reports made in Norfolk and seven in Suffolk for the whole of the previous year.

Coverage was achieved in print, broadcast and online media. RCWS MD, Teresa Sayers, was interviewed on BBC Radio Norfolk and the resulting Home Office report was featured in an article in The Guardian. Teresa was also asked to contribute an article for The Guardian’s Comment is Free section.


The report continues to have an impact. The issue of HCWs was recently raised in Prime Minister’s Questions, as a reference point to argue for mandatory licensing for hand car washes. This was covered in the Birmingham Mail in May 2023.

Social media posts that we shared across RCWS LinkedIn and Twitter pages as part of the campaign were commented on and reshared by key stakeholders, including the Chairperson of the West Midlands Anti Slavery Network and a UN Global Compact Ambassador.

Media coverage

  • Car wash warning: Many hiring foreign workers are nothing more than ‘modern slavery’

    There are serious fears for thousands of car wash workers around the UK with a scheme being launched to raise awareness Daily Express

  • More than 90% of hand car washes in UK employing workers illegally, study finds

    Only 7% had undertaken right-to-work checks and just 11% handed out payslips, Nottingham Trent University research reveals The Guardian

  • Non-compliance in car washes a threat – finds Home Office-backed report

    The RCWS has called on enforcement agencies to accelerate and co-ordinate their efforts to tackle problems including wage theft, exploitation and malpractice in the hand car wash sector Taxi Point

  • Norfolk car washes investigated over 'serious breaches' of regulations

    Car washes across Norfolk are being investigated over fears staff are being exploited. Eastern Daily Press