New evidence has emerged that disgraced Topshop owner Philip Green may be one of the reasons why unpaid internships are still so prevalent in the UK’s fashion industry.

Claims have been made that he used his power to crush an effort by government officials to crack down on fashion employers paying their junior staff less than the national minimum wage – even phoning then-Chancellor George Osborne to make sure a planned press campaign aimed at ending exploitation within the industry was binned.

Tweets (pasted below) from a former official who worked within the government team responsible for enforcing the minimum wage law suggest that Philip Green was firmly opposed to a planned publicity campaign to raise awareness about fashion interns’ rights to pay, and their employers’ legal duty to provide a wage (not just expenses). This was set to follow the sending of 102 letters to UK fashion employers including Burberry, Paul Smith, Mulberry and Nicole Farhi, which happened in December 2011.

Graduate Fog understands the follow-up publicity campaign was scheduled for early 2012, but those working on it say it was suddenly and mysteriously shelved.

The author refers to Green as “An angry man with the Chancellor’s ear” who “has been pulling this crap for years.”

We already know that the issue of unpaid internships had got under Green’s skin – he seemed impervious to all the arguments about the practice being exploitative to those who work unpaid, and excluding of those who can’t.

THE THORN IN GREEN’S SIDE This menacing-looking nightmare is Emily Wong, the 22-year-old intern who Green says “spoilt it for thousands of others” by claiming she should have been paid for the “dogsbody” work she performed in the Miss Selfridge press office in 2011. A year later, Emily received a cheque for £851 from Arcadia, which the retailer insisted was not proof that she was right (and they’ll sue you if you say otherwise)

In 2014, three years after 22-year-old intern Emily Wong reported her unpaid internship at Miss Selfridge (owned by Green’s retail empire Arcadia), Green was still banging on about it, telling the Evening Standard that Emily had “spoilt it for thousands of others.” 

(Yes, simply by standing up to him and pointing out the fact she was entitled to be paid for the work she had done there).

In response to the latest claims, Tanya de Grunwald, founder of Graduate Fog, said:

“We have no way of confirming the accuracy of the account in these tweets. However, if true, the story could at least partly explain why campaigners like Graduate Fog and Intern Aware were not able to make a greater impact in changing the culture of unpaid internships in the UK’s fashion industry around that time, despite passionate and sustained efforts, and overwhelming media and public support. That period was a crucial time for our campaign – and it’s frustrating to hear that there may have been more happening behind the scenes than we realised, to ensure we lost the momentum we’d worked so hard to build.”

De Grunwald also said the tweets had made her re-examine the industries where the campaign for fair internships has been less effective than others, and where too much unpaid work remains to this day:

“In certain industries – including fashion, politics and media – it has been exceptionally hard to push through change around unpaid internships. We campaigners always assumed it was because we hadn’t spoken to the right people, or managed to make enough noise. But now I wonder if the truth may be darker. Would it be paranoid to consider whether in those industries there are simply more powerful opponents who were – and perhaps still are – actively working against us? It’s a sinister thought, but I think it’s time to consider it.”

Here are the tweets. Decide for yourself if the account rings true?

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap