This website today asks whether anybody in the business world is planning to locate their testicles, step forward and declare their support for the battle for fair pay for Britain’s army of young, unpaid interns.

In recent weeks, the interns’ collective voice has grown louder and clearer, thanks to top-notch campaigning by Internocracy and Intern Aware.

Respected think tanks like the IPPR have backed you up.

All five Labour leadership candidates have agree to back Intern Aware’s campaign for fair pay for interns.
The TUC and BECTU have supported it for a long time.

And last week our universities minister David Willetts stunned Graduate Fog by finally displaying what could be a backbone (?), when he declared that:

“The exploitation of interns is unacceptable and employment legislation must not be breached.”

Yet, amid all this discussion over unpaid internships, one group has been uncharacteristically quiet:


Today, Graduate Fog asks: Why the silence?

Cat got your tongue?

The last few weeks’ fierce debate on Graduate Fog have shown that big business must take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask, ‘Are we being fair to our young staff?’

The Graduate Fog community is unanimous that the answer is: NO.

It’s a fact that right now all around the UK hundreds of thousands of young people are still working unpaid (and illegally) as ‘interns’.

Meanwhile, an even greater number of you have been unfairly excluded from these opportunities because you cannot afford to work for free.

No doubt business leaders will insist that unpaid interns are gaining an excellent opportunity for some hands-on training.

(An argument so rotten it literally stinks).

They will claim that unpaid internships are legally a ‘grey area’.

(Which they aren’t).

They will duck responsibility and pass the buck to their suppliers.

(Yes, we’re talking to you, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Superdrug, Weight Watchers and Morrisons.)

Or they will simply ignore our legitimate complaints that what they are doing is likely to be illegal.

(Shame on you, Urban Outfitters and Selfridges. Do you think this is just going to go away?).

The truth is that – as our nation’s young people slave for nothing, or are blocked from vital opportunities because of their economic background – only one group wins.

Business gains what must add up to millions of pounds worth of free labour – and saves similarly huge sums on training.

(Because in working for free you’re effectively training yourselves).

As you kip on friends’ floors, live on Savers pasta, sink deeper into record levels of debt and are still no closer to securing paid work, your fat cat employers continue to rake in huge salaries and massive profits.

Graduate Fog would like to know how these people sleep at night.

I am disappointed not to have had a reply from James Caan after my invitation to tea with me and my good friends at Internocracy, Intern Aware and Interns Anonymous. But I remain hopeful that a response will be forthcoming.

On Thursday, I sent an email to James’ daughter Hanah, who you’ll remember had sent a prompt (and charming) reply to my first email – but nothing at all to my second, inviting James to tea.

So I wrote for a third time:

Hi Hanah,

I just wanted to check that you had received my email sent on Monday? This story is being closely followed by Graduate Fog’s users, who are very much hoping James will take us up on the offer of a meeting with me, Intern Aware and Internocracy. Obviously it’s no problem at all if you need more time to talk it over with James – I just wanted to confirm that my email had definitely reached you.

Also, you see last weekend’s extensive news coverage about the issue of unpaid internships?
I think we are set to see a lot more coverage of this subject in the coming months.

Once again, we really would welcome the chance to make our case to James about this issue. Gaining his backing would be a huge boost to our campaign to get this issue taken seriously within the business world, especially given James’ background in recruitment. If he were to come on-board, we are confident that James would become an instant hero to young interns everywhere. It is estimated that there are currently 250,000 young people working as unpaid interns in the UK at the moment.

With many thanks again to you both for considering our invitation,


I will let you know as soon as I hear from the Caan camp on this.

But, if James is not prepared to stand with us, perhaps one (or some) of his fellow Dragons will?

Duncan Bannatyne?

Peter Jones?

Deborah Meaden?

Theo Paphitis?

Or how about Sir Alan Sugar?

TopShop’s Sir Philip Green?

M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose?

French Connection founder Stephen Marks?

These people are not known for being shy.

So where ARE they?

Why aren’t they adding their voices to the battle for a fairer deal for our nation’s young people?

Do they think it’s fair that young people are the only group expected to work for nothing, when we agree that everybody else should be protected by the National Minimum Wage laws?

It’s my belief that for a long time the business community has known, deep down, that unpaid internships are unethical.

Now – thanks to Internocracy and the IPPR’s new report – it can be in no doubt that they also likely to be illegal.

But Graduate Fog knows that the next battle is enforcing the law.

Despite the TUC’s noble insistence that interns have the law on your side, I feel that advising you to demand the minimum wage from your employer effectively means throwing you to the lions.

I think unpaid interns are by far the most vulnerable groups in today’s workforce.

(Who else is too scared to ask for a wage, in case they get fired from a job they aren’t being paid to do?!)

How can you stand up for your right to the national minimum wage, whilst trying to make a good impression with tough bosses in competitive industries that have grown used to getting something for  nothing?

In the current climate, I don’t think you can. You can battle for fair pay OR you can work to make a good impression and maximise your chances of being offered paid work. But with things as they are right now, I just don’t see how you can successfully do both.

You simply don’t have the support you need.

Some who disagree with me might say that things will only change if interns start pressing charges against employers who exploit them.

I disagree – and think it is unfair to ask (10? 50? 500?) young workers to make this sacrifice before your plight will be taken seriously.

I think pressing for a cultural shift in the business world is a better solution.

Admitting to using unpaid interns must become not just embarrassing but shameful.

Graduate Fog thinks it is time for high-profile chief executives and entrepreneurs to find their conscience and take the lead on this issue.

Can they show that British business is great enough to treat its young workers fairly?

Should British business do more to support its young? Are you shocked at how many supposedly reputable companies openly abuse graduates’ desperation to enter the workforce? Or do you think companies have the right to behave like this, until interns stand up for your rights?

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