Minimum wage

Every so often a company will hit the news because they have been using labour in India, China, Indonesia, the Philipines etc. and paying them a miniscule amount to create what we consider to be luxury goods. Nike, Gap, Zara and the Kardashians clothing line have all been accused of using what is considered to be slave or child labour to produce their clothing.

What I’m about to say does not excuse these practices but there exists in fashion a class of workers who aren’t paid at all. They’re here in the UK, they are paid nothing for working what are often long hours and the best many of them can expect at the end of it is a line on their CV and a reference.

They’re called interns.

please pay here interns

Interns are essentially unpaid labour; people who want to break into fashion or PR but don’t yet have the experience required to get a job (the age-old problem of you need experience to get a job but you can’t get experience without a job). There are some lovely people who do now pay their interns (well done Stella McCartney) and Red magazine’s annual win an internship competition offers £1000 to cover any travel and accommodation (not everyone lives in London) but the vast majority of intern positions are unpaid. This can be evidenced by the number of tweets that go out looking for interns stating that travel expenses will be paid.

Designers have argued that, despite HMRC’s plans to crack down on companies that use unpaid interns, this is the way the industry works. They did their time as interns and thus this generation should have to do the same as well. What they don’t appreciate is that this is illegal. There is a minimum wage in place to stop people being exploited like this and the fact that a multi-million pound industry is willing to sacrifice the rights of employees for a bigger profit margin shows that the beautiful fashion industry is really pretty ugly.

In addition the argument that if the fashion industry were to start paying their interns then the industry would collapse and companies would require major restructuring does call into question the business plan these companies have been built on. How can you call a business plan that requires people to work unpaid feasible? If that’s the only way a company can be profitable then it isn’t sustainable. It’s just plain bollocks.

So come on fashion and PR people, start paying your interns. It’s exploitation, plain and simple and last thing I heard, slave labour was abolished in this country a long time ago…

Do you think the practice of not paying interns should be allowed? Or is it just a case of paying your dues before you get to join a desirable profession?

As always, all comments are welcome and greatly appreciated!

Average Josephine x

6 thoughts on “Minimum wage

  1. Hmmmmm a very thought provoking subject indeed and one of which I have often been tempted to scribe about myself having recently finished working as (possibly the worlds oldest) PR intern. You are absolutely right to suggest that many internships should command a minimum wage given the long hours and grueling workloads many are given. However in my personal experience, this perhaps may not always fit. My internship was for a small chain of independent retail boutiques in London for 6 weeks. I approached them and offered my time. I was never held to any set hours, given any set tasks, or held any responsibility. I almost came and went as I pleased within reason. It was an extremely flexible arrangement which fitted in with my children, my studies and available hours. I was initially planning on staying for 12 weeks but shortened it as I started getting paid freelance work. The company were extremely understanding and I found it a really useful experience. But then right from the start it was clear between both parties what the arrangement was, what expenses would be paid and that I wouldn’t looking for a role at the end of it. So I guess in my case the practice of not paying the intern was acceptable as it was my choice and the arrangement was very flexible. On the flip side I totally agree with you and can see how companies have now come to think of it as the norm and take full advantage of some very unsuspecting young people. Tricky one!

  2. I think you’ve hit on the exact problem in what you’ve written here – internships are basically unpaid labour, which is not what they *should* be. But rather than ruling them out completely, I think I’d opt for placing limits on them. Make them more like school work experience placements – a couple of weeks unpaid at most – and interns would still have chance to gain some experience without being exploited, while the companies offering the internships wouldn’t be able to use them to get full-time staff for free.

    Personally I only really object to lengthy unpaid internships – lasting all summer for university students, or for an entire year for graduates, for example. That’s clearly exploitative and the argument that “the previous generation did it, so this one should too” doesn’t lend much support to any dodgy practice! So yeah, overall agreement with you on this one, for sure.

  3. Great points – really, companies should describe unpaid internships as ‘work experience’. The idea that anyone can afford to work for an extended period for free is ridiculous these days. Unless the boss wants to give you room and board, like apprentices got in the 1600s.

    Sally’s case is interesting because she was coming from a stronger position (I assume she had some savings from a previous career, unlike most interns who are trying to get credentials for a first job) and approached the boutiques herself with an offer.

    It’s important to value skills and labour. That’s the whole point of hiring the ‘best person for the job’. Yet companies that don’t pay interns seem to place no value on the skills and labour of these people who do contribute to company profits.

  4. Oops…last comments for the Romeo and Juliet article…this one…yes…i definitely beleve in unpaid internships…but its hard when you feel you should be paying them

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