INTERNSHIPS / MAR. 21, 2014
version 2, draft 2

Slaves To Fashion: Unpaid Internships

Reports of an intern for Alexander McQueen has raised further concerns about unpaid work experience. Using the pseudonym Rachel Watson the intern who worked for the avant-garde label in 2009-2010 is taking legal action to the tune of £6, 415 for an alleged loss of wages after the fashion house failed to pay her the national minimal wage for her work. The Intern Aware organisation is helping to support her case.

This case is highly controversial as Watson claims: “I quickly realised I was being exploited. How could I confront my employer at the time when they held all the cards to my future in the industry?”

Protests were held at this year’s London Fashion Week by King’s College London student union with banners donning the slogan “pay interns it’s in this season,” reflecting the frustration and disillusion about the fashion industries conduct.

This is not the first time Alexander McQueen has come under fire for its unorthodox approaches to internship practises. There have been other similar allegations, and last year Alexander McQueen issued an apology for an ad recruiting for an unpaid student intern position in their knitwear department.

This merely addresses the underlying issue of unpaid internships across the board. This label should not be held solely accountable for a practice that is generally the norm across various other employment sectors. Unfortunately, there are companies that prefer to use the labour of interns rather than pay them a reasonable salary in this recovering economic climate.

The consensus of internships is one of optimism. Interns are keen to gain as much job experience as possible, especially students, and it is not uncommon for individuals to undertake unpaid internships, well, at least willingly.

According to research four in ten interns do not get paid the minimum wage which only tragically highlights the plight facing interns as a whole. Internships can play a vital role in regards to future employment prospects. Employers are confident in hiring those who have solid work experience credentials, and in some employment sectors internships are regarded as being the only gateway towards professional employment.

This almost mandatory affiliation with internships and employment is a grey area where some individuals are forced to decide between working for free if it means landing them their dream job or bypassing internships completely, and taking a leap of faith on their own credentials.

Internships can be a real assist when it comes to seeking employment whether they are paid or not. There are numerous benefits with being able to demonstrate to employers that you have the right skill set for the job. The spotlight should not just be focused upon internships, but how these internships are managed, remunerated and regulated by the companies who offer them. Strict guidelines instead of smoke and mirrors will protect interns who opt into these placements more effectively, thus eradicating the need for debate and legal action surrounding scandalous intern opportunities.

Have you completed an unpaid internship? Was it worth it?

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