BYLINES, CONTACTS, FREE TICKETS AND MEALS WERE FAIR REWARD FOR INTERNS’ WORK, HE CLAIMS
A company founder has angered graduates by insisting that young people would shoot themselves in the foot if unpaid internships were banned. He also suggested that interns should be happy to benefit from the “perks” of their long, travel expenses-only placements at his company, including bylines, contacts, free gig tickets and meals.
Roifield Brown founded MyVillage, the company successfully sued by intern hero Keri Hudson, in a landmark case for interns’ rights. He appeared to be reacting to the two-page special report about internships in Sunday’s Observer, which named his company in relation to Hudson’s case. In Monday’s piece for the Guardian, entitled “Complaining interns will shut the door for those who need experience,” he wrote:
“As the founder and ex-director of www.myvillage.com I took on many graduates and budding writers. Some worked from home building up their portfolios on a casual basis, others came into the office (when we had one, more recently it’s been my kitchen table) and got more hands-on experience.”
Astonishingly, Brown appears to think that running a small, failing company gave him some moral right to take on unpaid staff:
“Like other companies, Myvillage has struggled during the downturn with massively reduced revenue. I went through 2010 with no income from the site. While lacking the means to employ experienced writers, I was able to offer and share experience, contacts and knowledge in exchange for some help in keeping the site up and running, which is why we ran an intern programme last year.
“Even prior to this we regularly took people on unpaid placements and on a daily basis received emails from budding writers asking for opportunities to write for us voluntarily.”
He also appears to claim that his internships were taken up by young people from all backgrounds, although how this was possible when he only paid travel expenses is unclear:
“I always strived to offer opportunities to individuals who might not traditionally access them, and tried to offer a supportive and mutually beneficial role. Interns benefited from perks such as getting free entry to gigs and not having to pay for meals at restaurants they reviewed. They also got their work published on the site and built up a body of bylined work. If the intern embraced the role then such experience certainly offered long-term career advantages.”
But all this is nothing compared to his conclusion, which demonstrates logic so twisted we have had to read it several times – and still don’t follow. According to Brown, unpaid internships don’t block poorer candidates from opportunities – they actually widen access to them:
“If employers are penalised for offering work experience opportunities, it is surely a recipe for nepotism and will in no way help youth and graduate unemployment. I can only envisage a situation where employers play safe and offer opportunities solely to a select group of young people. In other words, placements for the kids of your mates.”
(No, we don’t follow either)
Graduate Fog has written before about the bizarre belief that some self-styled entrepreneurs seem to have about the value of the experience they offer their interns – and their right to use unpaid workers: Why do start-ups think they have the right to use unpaid interns?
But this unshakeable shocks us every time. And, disturbingly, people like Brown are distorting the charter between employer and employee – which is “I work for you; you pay me”. Mr Brown: If your business doesn’t make enough money to pay the staff you need to run it, then sorry but you don’t have a proper business. Stop pretending you’re an entrepreneur – when we all know what you really are.
*What do you think of Roifield Brown’s comments?
Is there a case for allowing the spread of unpaid internships to continue as they are? Or are you sick and tired of hearing employers justify the exploitation of young workers?