WHEN was the last time I washed my own car? I can’t remember.

I’m sure there are people who enjoy the chore - the routine of it, the pride in the finished result, care given to their pride-and-joy vehicle. No thanks.

Why find space in one’s busy schedule for hard labour when for a mere £4.50 you can have five men clean your car til it's glinting?

Well, because if it seems too good to be true then it’s likely to be too good to be true.

It doesn’t take a great deal of deep thought to work out that a £4.50 payment for a hand car wash carried out by five people means those five people are not leaving at the end of each day with a minimum wage pay packet.

More likely, a £4.50 car wash means those five people are being exploited as cheap labour. Possibly they are victims of modern slavery, perhaps they have been trafficked.

But, given the proliferation of hand car washes and the queues at them daily - and nightly, many of the car washes are open long hours - this fact is obviously easy enough for people to turn a blind eye to.

It’s interesting that modern day slavery has entered the public consciousness with regards to the clothing industry. We know quite well that our cheap clothes - the £1.50 swimsuit, the £6 pair of jeans - come at a price that is far from economic. There is shock when big name, reputable brands are found to be churning out clothes in factories where workers are paid 50p an hour to toil in squalid conditions.

Boycott, comes the cry.

Just yesterday an exposé in the Guardian newspaper alleged that workers in a factory making clothing for the high end active wear brand Lululemon are being subjected to cruel treatment - beatings, verbal abuse and pressure to work overtime. They are paid, it is claimed, around £85 a month, which is less than the cost of one pair of Lululemon leggings.

The company has said it will launch an immediate investigation, no doubt acting swiftly and sharply because it knows the gross ill treatment of Bangladeshi female factory workers will play extremely badly with its middle class, socially aware customer base. Will boycott become the cry for Lululemon?

Yet when poor working conditions exist on our doorstep, we somehow find it easier to overlook.

Nail bars are another consumer convenience where modern day slavery proliferates. They satisfy the desire for a bargain, make you feel good and there’s no inconvenience of having to book ahead for an appointment. In the current financial climate, women have less money to spend on beauty treats and so something like a regular manicure is an addictive temptation for some.

But is it ethical to continue to go to a nail bar if you believe you may be participating in exploitation? It’s easy for me to ask: the one and only time I’ve set foot in a nail bar was accompanying a Police Scotland operation on human trafficking. If I was a woman keen on regular manicures and pedicures, would I be, as with the car washes, uncomfortable but still settling down for a file and polish?

The restructuring of how we shop has created an environment in which it is easy for exploitation to go unchecked. As with nail bars satisfying the need for a quick, cheap treatment, petrol stations are under pressure as consumers find it more convenient to fill up at supermarket petrol pumps rather than make two journeys to two locations.

This means a decrease in the number of mechanical car washes and an increase in vacant space to be taken over by... exploitative hand car washes. Which is not to say that all car washes are exploitative. The UK body the Car Wash Advisory Service has an accreditation scheme, WashMark, that drivers can look out for.

Drivers and nail bar customers can also easily look out for the signs of exploitation: workers who can’t communicate with customers in English, where the staff appear withdrawn or very young, where they are living in houses of multiple occupancy.

A high profile court case last week saw four members of a gang found guilty of trafficking young Roma women and girls from Slovakia to Govanhill, to flats just a couple of streets away from where I live. One of the young women was sold into a sham marriage for £10,000 outside a branch of Primark in Glasgow city centre. The story captured readers in high numbers, likely from the shock of having such a heinous crime against such a familiar background.

Yet exploitation is happening all around us and it needs consumers to be alert to the issue in order to tackle it.

The Scottish Government commissioned a public survey this year on public responses to human trafficking. It found that respondents saw the crime as less of an issue in Scotland than overseas. In 2018, 16 per cent of people saw modern slavery as an issue in Scotland, falling to 13 per cent this year.

People were far more likely to believe modern slavery to be an issue in Europe and the rest of the world - showing an awareness of the subject but a belief that it doesn’t happen here. Some 58 per cent of respondents admitted to a low level of understanding of human trafficking.

At an event a few years ago I was chatting to a chap who said he owned a handful of car washes at different locations in the west of Scotland. He was quite confident in the ethics of his working practice, saying all his staff earned £40 for a 10 hour day and were given a hot meal at lunchtime.

At the time minimum wage would have been about £6.50 per hour - he was proudly shorting his staff by nearly 40 per cent of their wages. A hot meal though, so his conscience was clear.

The justification he gave to me was the men he employed would otherwise be out of work. With little English, no qualifications and no support networks in Scotland, they would be destitute. He saw exploitation as, in fact, a gift to his staff, a generous springboard into a better life.

That was the last time I visited the hand car wash. Exploiting fellow human beings for the sake of enjoying cheap little luxuries? There’s no excuse.

As consumers we must use our economic power for good.