- Paying for fashion internships: Is it fair?

Paying for fashion internships: Is it fair? 

Sofeminine writer Abby Driver on why she thinks the government should ban unpaid internships and why paying to do an internship is all wrong...

There’s no denying the economic climate is rough as rats at the moment. Despite the fact we’re supposedly out of recession, youth unemployment is increasing daily and nearly 40% of graduates are still unemployed after 6 months of graduating. 
The result? A frightening fierce job market.
Graduates are left fighting tooth and nail for entry level jobs that seem to have given way to internships, an American concept that British business has taken to all too eagerly.
The idea is simple, graduates work in exchange for experience to beef up their C.V and make them stand out from their peers.

Unfortunately, all their peers had the same idea. This new culture of internships has led to businesses up and down the country getting young people to act like fulltime employees in return for some lunch money and a zone 1-2 travel card, if they’re lucky. 
But it gets even worse.  
Pay to work for free

High end fashion labels Oscar de la Renta, Balenciaga, M Missoni and Valentino have teamed up with a charity auction site to auction off internships. The money raised will go towards a children’s charity.  
N’aww high end fashion has a heart, you might be forgiven for thinking, because at first things look nothing short of hunky-dory. Fashion's finest joining forces to raise money for charity, what a pleasant headline.  
But the reality is they are essentially asking people to pay to work for nothing. Ouch.
Experience, experience, experience 
Everybody knows that experience is important, but to ask people to pay to do an internship is beyond ridiculous. It makes the daily cost of a Boots meal deal look ridiculously generous. And with the current bid for a month's experience at Balenciaga is $2,350, let’s be honest, these internships are only open to a socially privileged minority.  
If Valentino et al are so concerned about enriching the lives of children why don’t they donate a slice of their gargantuan annual profit to the cause? Or auction off their precious stock? Anything but to ask desperate students to pay for the privilege of working for nothing. 
A radical shakeup 

This story underlines the need for the culture of internships to undergo a radical shakeup. While most internships don’t demand payment for the privilege of partaking, very few pay beyond travel expenses, which means that yet again, only the lucky few that can afford to work in exchange for nothing get the experience that ultimately leads to a job. 
Graduates spend three years gaining a degree and most already have work experience in a relevant field, so if an employer thinks they are capable of working for them, is minimum wage really too much to ask for?  
The facts ‘n figures 
The Institute for Public Policy Research estimates there are 100,000 interns who are not paid the national minimum wage in Britain most of them are doing real work that the government’s lawyers say should be paid.  But nobody seems keen in enforcing it. Maybe because both sides of the government (yep, those pesky Liberal Democrats too) like things the way they are. 
But the NUS have gone as far as labelling unpaid internships ‘illegal’ stating that they don’t comply with National Minimum Wage legislation. There have been a few cases of ex-interns taking matters to court, both here and the other side of the pond. But for all the fuss kicking off, nothing seems set to change anytime soon. 
On the box
The rise of unpaid internships is highlighted all over popular culture, from HBO’s new show ‘Girls’ where main character Hannah struggles to complete an internship without her parents help, to E4s latest stab at reality TV ‘The Work Experience’. The lack of both money and valuable experience is seen as the punch line, but really it’s just a depressing reality for many. 
In my case, I was lucky enough to find an internship that actually pays. I don’t have family in London to crash with rent free and my parents aren’t multimillionaires, so there is no way I could afford to move to London and work for free. With London’s extortionate rent and the increasing cost of living things are still pretty tight at the moment, but I count myself lucky compared to those who have left university and face 6 months of free labour for the ambivalent promise of work at the end of it. 
In conclusion…
I think the government should ban unpaid internships and encourage all businesses to pay at least the national minimum wage. It would open up the opportunities to everyone, and not just a privileged minority.


Abby Driver
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