The fashion brand Vivienne Westwood has advertised a full-time, three-month unpaid internship on their company website, refused to answer our questions about how they feel this fits with the National Minimum Wage law – and then removed the advert we were enquiring about.

After 12 emails from Graduate Fog — sent over five weeks, as part of our Pay Your Interns campaign — a spokesperson from the brand’s HR department finally confirmed that Vivienne Westwood does employ interns, but declined to comment further.

Graduate Fog is disappointed to discover that Vivienne Westwood, voted three times ‘British Designer of the Year’, appears to be engaging in a practice that we know is so damaging for social mobility. Westwood herself — the ‘Grande Dame’ of British fashion, who received an OBE in 1992 — is the daughter of a greengrocer. She has always been highly political — and made her name with punk-inspired collections in the 1970s. We have always rather liked her – but we are rapidly going off her.

Here is the job description as it appeared on the website:

Visual Merchandising Assistant Internship

We are offering an unpaid internship within the Visual Merchandising Department to work to the creation of the all in-store and window displays.

The candidate should be available for a minimum of three months from Monday to Friday and must have Adobe and experience.”

This advert appears to suggest hat this internship involves set hours and proper work (why else would the intern need Adobe and experience?) — so we were interested to hear how Vivienne Westwood feel it fits with the National Minimum Wage legislation. After five weeks of silence — during which we sent 12 chasing emails — we received this response from Vivienne Westwood’s HR department:

To: Graduate Fog
From: Vivienne Westwood HR
Date: October 11th 2011

I can confirm that we offer a range of internship packages which vary depending on the department, experience of the student and duration. I am afraid that, as a privately owned company, we do not release details of our employment conditions so I will be unable to give you any further information.

Since receiving this email from Vivienne Westwood, the advert for the ‘Visual Merchandising Assistant Internship’ has been removed from the website and been replaced by an almost-identical advert which does not include the word “unpaid”.

(Want to compare the two? See the before and after screen grabs below).

Does this change to the advertisement mean that the internship is now paid? Unfortunately, we have no way of finding out.

Those who have been following our Pay Your Interns campaign will know that Vivienne Westwood’s “We’re a private company so don’t answer questions like this” excuse was also used by River Island, who also refused to comment when we asked them to clarify their policy on internships.

It may be Vivienne Westwood’s right not to comment — and they may have nothing to hide. But from where we’re standing, it doesn’t half make them look bad, whether they’re hiding a guilty secret or stonewalling us because they think the internships issue isn’t important. Frankly, we expected more from the Grande Dame of British fashion. She is never normally so shy. And what happened to standing up and being counted?

See it with your own eyes! Here are the before and after screen grabs of the advert. See how the word ‘unpaid’ has been removed from the second ad?

*Are you disappointed in Vivienne Westwood?
Did you expect more from a label that has its roots in punk rock — and run by a designer who is so well-respected? Have you interned at Vivienne Westwood? Were you paid for your work at the company?

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