Respond: The Politics of Interns

Corinne AndWords by Elizabeth Pollard

In last Friday’s Evening Standard, the mighty Philip Green was interviewed about his entrepreneurial success, his relationship with Kate Moss and Arcadia’s new scheme to introduce retail education into schools… to put it in layman’s terms, he got in trouble for his mis use of interns so has decided to target children for free labour. As a recent graduate in the fashion/design industry, I am fully aware of the exploitation of interns and the impact it has on the industry. Despite the introduction of new laws banning free labour, Green blames Topshop’s recent intern cut back on one poor girl who spoke out and triggered an investigation into the company’s conduct. Out of 300 interns, Topshop could only afford to pay 30 which Green claims has ‘ruined it for all of us’. However, that number is not only staggering but that he can openly admit that in a national newspaper because he is that indignant is disgusting. Surely a multi-billion dollar company’s extortion has ruined it for everyone, not the girl who would rather work in the industry she has trained in as opposed to being a shelf stacker (of which is also a very respectable career). The self righteous attitude that Philip Green is God and everyone must serve him is frankly boring and destructive. Yes, a commercial education, on some levels, would benefit the economy, but masking ‘slave labour’ as education is exploitation.

When I was an intern there were assigned ‘tasks’ that I carried out. Not necessarily making the tea and coffee but also not the glamorous design work the art director would dirty their hands with. Living in London as a student was hard enough but when your are only getting paid £120 for 7 days work you feel like some injustice is going on. The presumption that you can afford to work for free is irresponsible and for industries stop budgeting wages is a slippery slope to unemployment and an unproductive workforce. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that just because you have graduated you are entitled to a position and responsibility you haven’t earned, but I don’t believe that you are indebted to gain experience. It is simply not acceptable for young people to be exploited – we wouldn’t tolerate it for women or people of a different race so why would we make the exception for young adults?

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