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Why unpaid internships should be considered exploitation

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In a university overflowing with ambitious career-driven individuals, summer internships are seen by Warwick students as a key stepping stone to a successful career in almost all employment fields.

For those hoping to pursue a career in law or finance, summer placement schemes are often highly lucrative, but then these are internships renowned for their extreme hours and pressurised working environment.

Yet other areas, such as the arts and fashion, are receiving increasing criticism over their placement practices. Urban Outfitters is a prime example of this trend, having recently faced a backlash over their recruitment for a yearlong full-time unpaid internship.

It would be… impossible to undertake such an internship without significant financial support

Clearly, it would be financially impossible to undertake such an internship without significant financial support from family, or substantial personal wealth – effectively excluding those from less affluent backgrounds. The Guardian has also come under fire for offering two-week work experience placements for students that only pay for ‘reasonable’ travel expenses.

I am undertaking an unpaid internship this summer in London, and whilst I should have travel expenses paid, it is for a charity, and so from their perspective I am essentially volunteering.

Personally, I think this is fair enough – given the not-for-profit nature of the organisation, it would perhaps be a bit much to demand a salary akin to those paid by top-flight commercial bodies.

Whilst I have no qualms with working for free… others simply do not have such an option

However, I am in the fortune position if having parents whom, despite being by no means wealthy, are willing to support me financially through the summer. Without their assistance I would likely not be able to accept the internship. Whilst I have no qualms with working for free for three months, especially for a charity, others simply do not have such an option.

I think that if it’s just a work experience placement for a week or two, expenses are enough to pay participants. I maintain that companies who can afford to pay students should do so, but within independent organisations (especially in the arts area who may be struggling with funding as it is) it could be seen that the gain is purely in terms of experience, and not money.

It restricts internships to those who can afford it, rather than the best candidate

However, for anything longer, especially for summer internships where the employees (often students) add real value to the company, not paying them is akin to exploitation. Not funding interns stop those who need the summer to earn money from even applying. It restricts internships to those who can afford it, rather than the best candidate. It’s time for unethical internship practices to end.

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