Big brands that have been brazenly advertising unpaid internships – and the big job boards that carry these adverts – were feeling the heat today as a list of 100 big companies who have been publicly recruiting unpaid interns has been passed to HMRC for investigation.

Campaigners Intern Aware, who compiled the secret list of firms, told Graduate Fog that they have already been contacted by several companies concerned that their names were on it, and warning of legal action if they are named publicly. So far, the names of the companies – and the job boards where the adverts were placed – have not been identified. But Intern Aware has confirmed that the list includes a large number of household name brands – although this list is ‘just the tip of the iceberg’. The group’s co-founder Gus Baker told Graduate Fog:

“This list has definitely rattled employers. I’ve just got off the phone from one well-known brand desperate to know if their name is on the list, and threatening legal action if they are named publicly.

“Employers who know they have been taking advantage of their young staff are panicking – and word seems to be spreading that unpaid internships could create a major headache for employers in the future, as more and more interns come forward to claim the back pay they are owed. Most of the ads were taken from large job sites, which are also becoming increasingly concerned about negative publicity from effectively facilitation the exploitation of young people.

“Our hope is that this list will prompt all employers to check their policy on paying their interns. The must make sure they are operating within UK employment law and paying all their staff at least the national minimum wage for their work.”

The list was passed to HMRC by junior employment minster Jo Swinson, after a meeting with HMRC. Ben Lyons, the other co-founder of Intern Aware, said the group was able to compile its list of suspect companies simply by trawling jobs websites or searching online for “unpaid internship”. The campaigners sought the meeting with Swinson to explain their frustration that HMRC had so far failed to acknowledge the scale and severity of the problem. While it is illegal to have unpaid interns working for you, it is currently not illegal to advertise unpaid internships.

Are you pleased this list has been submitted – and do you think it will make employers think twice before taking on unpaid interns? Do think anything will come from the HMRC investigation, or do you fear the list be buried? Should it be made illegal to advertise unpaid internships?

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