The company that publicises fashion brands Calvin Klein, Uniqlo and Sienna Miller’s label Twenty8Twelve last night admitted on national television that 20 of its 70 staff are unpaid interns.

During the excellent BBC2 documentary “Who gets the best jobs?”, Modus Publicity’s joint managing director Julian Vogel did his best to convince us his company was doing nothing wrong in using unpaid interns, whose placements typically last for three months. He failed.

Here’s the transcript:

JV: “Within the fashion industry in general, the intern is a really vital resource. We just need so many people.”

And do the interns do proper work when they’re here?

JV: “Absolutely, they really do. What we really try and do is get them to have a variety of experience as well.”

If 15 or 20 members of your 70 staff are working here for free, presumably that’s quite key to the way you’re profitable as well, is it?

JV: “What do you mean — in the sense that are we profitable because we’ve got free staff?”

Yeah because as you’ve just said, they are doing proper jobs and they’re doing them for free…

JV: “Well I mean when I say they’re doing proper jobs, I mean they’re doing support jobs to the key team — ”

Things that need doing though?

JV: “They are things that need doing, yeah.”

So does that help your company remain profitable?

JV: “I think… I think that… um… I think that it’s… um… How would I answer that? I’ve never really thought of it like that.”

Meanwhile, Sara Long, account executive at the firm, bragged to several million viewers:

“There are so many applications coming in every day, so many people that are so forthcoming in working for free that you have to look at that and say ‘Do we want to throw money at them [laughs] if they’ll do the job anyway?” And I think the answer is… No! [smiles]”

What a charming girl.

Having exposed unpaid internships within Harrods, Selfridges, Urban Outfitters and many, many more, Graduate Fog is not surprised to learn that a fancy-pants fashion firm like Modus Publicity uses masses of unpaid interns. I’d have been more shocked if they didn’t. For years, the fashion industry has been one of the worst offenders for taking advantage of its young workers.

What does surprise me is that Modus were dumb enough to admit this on national television. Unless the fraffly posh Vogel is an excellent actor, it seems that it genuinely hadn’t occurred to him that what his company is doing is pretty iffy — both legally and ethically.

This spectacular gaffe was actually the perfect illustration of what the broader programme was about. Its argument was that we are allowing a teeny minority of poshos to effectively pinch all the best gigs (using Daddy’s contacts and their private income to fund these apparently dazzling careers), leaving us with what’s left.

This uber-privileged group are now busily constructing a business world that is so out of touch with the rest of us that it doesn’t even notice when it’s taking advantage of its workers – let alone when it is effectively shutting out anybody who doesn’t come from the same uber-privileged background as them (and can’t afford to work for free for months on end). Depressingly, I had a similar conversation a couple of months ago with somebody from FCUK’s creative team. He just didn’t get it.

Graduate Fog hopes Modus, Vogel and Long get some seriously bad press for this jaw-dropping PR own-goal. They certainly deserve it.

But I expect they won’t. The mainstream press has its own reasons for keeping the unpaid internships story away from the main news agenda (any guesses what those might be?). If they run this story as anything other than a teeny news snippet I’d be amazed.

Besides, would the fashion world even notice if Modus did get bad press? I doubt it. The fashion world exists in a bubble that is designed to ensure it has as little contact with ‘civilians’ as possible.

I bet 90% of the industry probably doesn’t even know about last night’s documentary. Wednesday is a big night for press launches — and the fash pack don’t tend to watch a lot of BBC2.

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