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.
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