PR industry’s exploitation of interns probed by HMRC

Link to PRWeek Article by Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith

PR professionals are among the worst offenders for exploiting interns, according to research by campaign group Intern Aware.

Ten per cent of the 100 firms reported to HM Revenue and Customs for investigation are either PR agencies or companies advertising PR roles.

HMRC is looking into whether employment law has been broken through the use of unpaid interns.

Intern Aware, which fights for fair, paid internships, last week submitted the list of 100 potential transgressors to junior employment minister Jo Swinson MP, who referred it to HMRC.

A spokesperson for HMRC said it always investigated information received concerning the breach of national minimum wage law.

Gus Baker, co-director of Intern Aware, refused to name the firms on the list, but confirmed that there are small- and mid-sized agencies. Food and fashion PR firms are prevalent among those named and shamed to Government.

Baker said: ‘We’re not saying these firms are definitely breaking the law, but these roles look like they are entitled to the minimum wage and the advertised jobs could be done by paid staff.’

The campaign group built its list by crowd-sourcing information from vacancies advertised on popular job sites including Internwise and w4mp, and said it was already building follow-up lists to submit for investigation.

The development casts a shadow on the comms industry’s treatment of interns,despite ongoing work by the CIPR, the PRCA, PRWeek and Intern Aware to combat the issue [see timeline, below].

The PRWeek/PRCA campaign to end the practice of unpaid internships launched in October 2011, with a list of member agencies committed to paying at least the national minimum wage. The number has risen by ten since the start of this year to 85 out of 311 members.Job ads for a number of comms agencies looking for full-time interns offering no pay aside from expenses have appeared online. These include Cubo PR, which is advertising for a three- to six-month internship.

Baker emphasised that Cubo is not on its list but said that ‘companies such as Cubo’ risk restricting their pool of potential employees to those who can afford to work for free.

Cubo had not responded as PRWeek went to press.

Interns timeline

April 2013 Eighty-five agencies are listed by PRCA as paying interns at least the national minimum wage.

June 2012  Arcadia makes retrospective payments to unpaid PR interns.

June 2012 PRCA and Intern Aware research finds that of 150 young PR professionals, 23 per cent were unpaid.

March 2012 The CIPR launches an ‘Internship and Work Placement’ toolkit.

Oct 2011 PRWeek and PRCA launch campaign to end unpaid internships backed by Deputy PM Nick Clegg.

Are Unpaid Fashion Interns The Oppressed Housewives Of Today?

Link to The Grindstone Article by The Jane Dough

If you think The Feminine Mystique isn’t still relevant today, then you have got another think coming. Atlantic writer Phoebe Maltz Bovy recently pointed out that unpaid internships, especially those in fashion, are often written off as a rich kid problem — specifically, a rich girl problem, as women take the majority of unpaid internships and usually have another source of income (most likely their parents.)

“To many people, the face of the unpaid intern is already that of a young woman whose survival (and possibly It-bag) needs are already being met, and there’s a reason for that,” she wrote. But she points out that the assumption that these young, (possibly) privileged women don’t need to be compensated because they are taken care of financially is the real problem, one which housewives used to face when they first tried to work outside the home.

Though they may have cool clothes and be in the same room as awesome designers, it ain’t so easy being a fashion intern. Last year more than 100 prominent fashion houses were being investigated by HMRC concerning the payment of their interns. Tanya de Grunwald, founder of the career website Graduate Fog and campaigner for paid internships, says this is not exactly breaking news, as fashion houses have been exploiting young workers for years.

“For too long, fashion houses have recruited brazenly for what are clearly illegal roles that take advantage of those who do them and exclude those who can’t afford to do them. These interns are not just work shadowing, making the tea and sorting the post. They are effectively doing full-time jobs, just without any pay. Most of the time they do not lead to paid, permanent jobs – only to another unpaid internship. Many fashion companies are known to have a revolving door system, where one unpaid intern is simply replaced with another at the end of their placement.”

The web site Fashionista did a piece on the horrors of being a fashion intern. Young women’s experiences included washing a urine-soaked dress for a fashion shoot for Vogue, scooping up dog poop, retyping to-do lists and returning yogurt to a store.