Former interns who complain to officials about not being paid have “spoilt it for thousands of young people”, according to billionaire Topshop boss Sir Philip Green. He says the number of “kids” doing internships in his companies has been cut from up to 400 to 30 now they must receive a wage for their work.
But today one intern who received a payout from his company after making an official complaint has hit back, telling Graduate Fog that Green’s comments are “an outrageous insult to young workers everywhere.”
In 2012, the Guardian reported that Arcadia – the parent company of Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins, owned by Green – made retrospective payments of hundreds of pounds to dozens of former interns, following an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs. This was sparked by a complaint by former Miss Selfridge intern Emily Wong, who eventually received a cheque from Arcadia for £851 for a month she spent doing “dogsbody work” for the company in April 2011.
Green’s comments were made in an interview with the Evening Standard, published last night. Plugging Arcadia’s new student apprenticeship scheme, Green said the “intern debacle” still bugged him, telling journalist Rosamund Urwin:
“There was one girl who made a complaint. This girl has spoilt it for thousands of people. We had 300 or 400 kids interning, now it’s about 30.”
He then went further, appearing to imply that the minimum wage law is somehow wrong. When Urwin asked whether he meant the former intern had “spoilt it” by asking to be paid, Green said:
“Yeah. If I call the girl now and ask her to bring me a bottle of water, I’m told she’s ‘doing a job’. I mean, please. Where are we living? I thought we were doing a service, giving 300 people a shot.”
Graduate Fog has contacted the former intern Green is referring to, Emily Wong, who is now 25 and works in PR in London.
Wong says she was furious when she read his comments in last night’s Standard, telling us:
“I can’t believe Philip Green says I have ‘spoilt’ internships for other young people by complaining that I wasn’t paid. It took real guts to come forward and ask for what I was owed – and the complaints process wasn’t easy (although I’ve heard it’s a bit better now).
“For too many young workers, unpaid internships don’t lead to paid work – just yet another unpaid internship. In many companies, unpaid internships have replaced what were once junior, paid roles.
“It was right that Arcadia paid me as they did – but for me this was never about the money. I wanted to take a stand and show big businesses that they can’t get away with treating their young staff like unpaid skivvies. For obvious reasons, interns who are in a position to stand up for ourselves are few and far between. Anyone who does it should be applauded, not dismissed as a whinger.
“What Sir Philip said was an outrageous insult to young workers everywhere. Just because a young person is keen to get their career started, that doesn’t mean employers should take advantage – or make us feel we’re being ungrateful if we question the terms of our working relationship.”
Like Emily, Graduate Fog was shocked to read Sir Philip Green’s comments. His attitude towards his young staff is appalling – and pretty bizarre given many are the exact demographic that his stores target as customers.
We knew when we started campaigning for paid internships that this could reduce the total number of internships available. But after much discussion our users agreed that a smaller number of high-quality, paid internships would be far better than hundreds of unpaid ones that lead nowhere.
Ranting about the past like this suggests also suggests that Green still hasn’t grasped what Arcadia did wrong and why unpaid internships are unfair both on those who do them and those who can’t afford to do them. Whatever his views, picking on those young people who are brave enough to stand up for themselves is disgusting. Why can’t Green apologise for the “intern debacle”, promise to pay all his staff from now on – and move on?
*COMPLAINING INTERNS: HEROES OR SPOIL-SPORTS?
What do you think of Sir Philip Green’s comments in the Evening Standard? Is he right to say that young workers who complain have “spoilt it” for their peers? Or do interns who stand up for themselves deserve to be applauded for their bravery? Have your say below…