Debate: Do you have a duty to report your unpaid internship?

Do unpaid interns have a duty to report their employer?FOUND A JOB AFTER WORKING FOR FREE? DO YOUR BIT AND BLOW THE WHISTLE

Being an unpaid intern sucks. But if you make it through the placement (or several) and finally land a proper, paid job with a different organisation, do you have a duty to report your unpaid internship, so your ex-employer can’t keep exploiting (and excluding) others?

Perhaps controversially, Graduate Fog is starting to think ‘Yes’. Why? Because we believe former interns are in a unique position – and actually, it’s quite a powerful one.

In finding paid work, former interns have gone from being victims to victors. Now, they have an incredible opportunity to take down the people who exploited them (unless it’s the same firm that eventually hired them, or course!) – and will happily keep doing it to others. In complaining, former interns can also do their bit to dismantle an entry system that is unfair and illegal, and still exploits and excludes far too many talented young people.

In recent years, we have seen many brave former interns square up to the employers who were happy to take their labour for free. These have resulted in massive press exposure for the issue as big brands have paid out – including X Factor, Arcadia, Reed, Fox Searchlight and Sony.

Intern hero Emily Wong, the former Milss Selfridge intern who challenged Arcadia to pay her the wages she deserved. The firm later made multiple payouts to former interns

Intern hero Emily Wong, the former Milss Selfridge intern who challenged Arcadia to pay her the wages she deserved. The firm later made multiple payouts to former interns

Watching in horror, other big companies have scrambled to check their own hiring and payment processes, to make sure they’re on the right side of the law.

But we need more interns to come forward. Although interns need to be named in the paperwork, they needn’t ever be named publicly – so the employer and the officials are the only people who will know it was them (unless they choose to ‘go public’ if and when the story is picked up by the media).

Campaign groups like Graduate Fog and Intern Aware have done much to support interns – by naming and shaming big brands and famous people caught taking advantage of young people so desperate for experience that they will work for free.

We are also working on tightening the law, and pressuring politicians to prioritise this issue. But one thing we can’t do is directly challenge employers we know are still exploiting unpaid interns. We need your stories as proof.

Between us all, we have achieved a lot. We have seen a huge culture shift on the issue – with the majority of large companies having realised that running unpaid internships is illegal and unfair. 

Have you interned for Vivienne Westwood? Please speak up - we need your story

Have you interned for Vivienne Westwood? Please speak up – we need your story

But still the practice still persists – particularly in fashion (wave to Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen), media and politics, and among smaller firms and new ‘start-up’ companies. We need those who intern for these employers to keep coming forward.  

(Incidentally, we recommend that former interns contact Intern Aware, rather than going to the Pay and Work Rights Helpline directly, as we believe strong cases are being mysteriously dismissed. There is no charge for this service and you may be awarded up to £1,000 for every month you worked unpaid).

Of course, we campaigners will keep fighting for interns. But we know from experience that there is nothing more powerful than an intern squaring up to their former employer, to demand the back pay they are owed.

We know this can be scary – and we wouldn’t ask anyone to do it until they feel safe. But once they have a permanent job – or have decided to work in a different industry altogether – Graduate Fog thinks they should do it if they can. After all, those who intern unpaid are the ‘lucky’ ones. For every unpaid intern, there are many more who can’t afford to work for free for months on end. Do the fortunate ones have a duty towards their less fortunate peers, who are locked out of these opportunities?

When you finally land a paid job, we know it’s tempting to just put the whole intern thing behind you and throw yourself into your new life. We think the ‘big picture’ suggests you have a duty to do more than that. Please, remember those who aren’t so lucky. 

* DO INTERNS HAVE A DUTY TO REPORT THEIR OLD EMPLOYER?
Is it time that former interns did more to help the cause? If you’ve interned unpaid, did you report your employer? If not, was it because you worried it could impact your career – or because you just wanted to move on? Do you think Graduate Fog is being harsh to suggest that former interns have a duty to make a formal complaint if they can?

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