Current legislation which protects companies found guilty of exploiting interns from being named publicly is being challenged by a politician who thinks they should be stripped of their right to anonymity.
Labour MP Hazel Blears has secured a Westminster Hall adjournment debate on the issue today – and is calling on treasury chiefs to name and shame companies who are successfully prosecuted for failing to pay the minimum wage to their young workers. At present, HMRC can make public how much back pay has been awarded in these cases – but not who the prosecuted companies are. Cases where the names of companies are known – such as Arcadia, which owns Topshop – are the exception, as these cases were followed by Graduate Fog from the start. Other cases where back pay was awarded – such as X Factor and IPC (Now magazine) – did not go via HMRC.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has revealed that during 2012/13 it ordered nine firms to pay £200,000 to people who had worked for them as unpaid interns. But it has so far refused to identify any of the companies involved.
Blears said awarding anonymity to firms proven to be breaking the law sent the wrong message to others – and that publicly holding these organisations to account was vital:
“I’m pleased to see HMRC is taking firm action against firms found to be flouting National Minimum Wage requirements and prioritising cases involving unpaid interns.
“But why should they be protected from public scrutiny? A policy of naming and shaming would enable these companies to be held directly to account by their customers.
“A one-off demand to pay former interns might be small change to some large firms, but if customers are empowered to vote with their wallets that could really make them sit up and take notice.”
She says unpaid internships, many of which are offered in London where living costs are high, deny people who cannot afford to work for free valuable opportunities – as well as exploiting those who do them.