Fashion industry internships: exploitation or experience?

Discussion in 'Fashion... In Depth' started by Fontenrose, Apr 4, 2010.

  1. Fontenrose

    Fontenrose New Member

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    Is Your Internship Legal? (NY Times)

    NY Times, April 2, 2010
    Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say

    By STEVEN GREENHOUSE

    With job openings scarce for young people, the number of unpaid internships has climbed in recent years, leading federal and state regulators to worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor.
    Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.
    Many regulators say that violations are widespread, but that it is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.
    The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.
    “If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.
    Ms. Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.
    No one keeps official count of how many paid and unpaid internships there are, but Lance Choy, director of the Career Development Center at Stanford University, sees definitive evidence that the number of unpaid internships is mushrooming — fueled by employers’ desire to hold down costs and students’ eagerness to gain experience for their résumés. Employers posted 643 unpaid internships on Stanford’s job board this academic year, more than triple the 174 posted two years ago.
    In 2008, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 83 percent of graduating students had held internships, up from 9 percent in 1992. This means hundreds of thousands of students hold internships each year; some experts estimate that one-fourth to one-half are unpaid.
    In California, officials have issued guidance letters advising employers whether they are breaking the law, while Oregon regulators have unearthed numerous abuses.
    “We’ve had cases where unpaid interns really were displacing workers and where they weren’t being supervised in an educational capacity,” said Bob Estabrook, spokesman for Oregon’s labor department. His department recently handled complaints involving two individuals at a solar panel company who received $3,350 in back pay after claiming that they were wrongly treated as unpaid interns.
    Many students said they had held internships that involved noneducational menial work. To be sure, many internships involve some unskilled work, but when the jobs are mostly drudgery, regulators say, it is clearly illegal not to pay interns.
    One Ivy League student said she spent an unpaid three-month internship at a magazine packaging and shipping 20 or 40 apparel samples a day back to fashion houses that had provided them for photo shoots.
    At Little Airplane, a Manhattan children’s film company, an N.Y.U. student who hoped to work in animation during her unpaid internship said she was instead assigned to the facilities department and ordered to wipe the door handles each day to minimize the spread of swine flu.
    Tone Thyne, a senior producer at Little Airplane, said its internships were usually highly educational and often led to good jobs.
    Concerned about the effect on their future job prospects, some unpaid interns declined to give their names or to name their employers when they described their experiences in interviews.
    While many colleges are accepting more moderate- and low-income students to increase economic mobility, many students and administrators complain that the growth in unpaid internships undercuts that effort by favoring well-to-do and well-connected students, speeding their climb up the career ladder.
    Many less affluent students say they cannot afford to spend their summers at unpaid internships, and in any case, they often do not have an uncle or family golf buddy who can connect them to a prestigious internship.
    Brittany Berckes, an Amherst senior who interned at a cable news station that she declined to identify, said her parents were not delighted that she worked a summer unpaid.
    “Some of my friends can’t take these internships and spend a summer without making any money because they have to help pay for their own tuition or help their families with finances,” she said. “That makes them less competitive candidates for jobs after graduation.”
    Of course, many internships — paid or unpaid — serve as valuable steppingstones that help young people land future jobs. “Internships have become the gateway into the white-collar work force,” said Ross Perlin, a Stanford graduate and onetime unpaid intern who is writing a book on the subject. “Employers increasingly want experience for entry-level jobs, and many students see the only way to get that is through unpaid internships.”
    Trudy Steinfeld, director of N.Y.U.’s Office of Career Services, said she increasingly had to ride herd on employers to make sure their unpaid internships were educational. She recently confronted a midsize law firm that promised one student an educational $10-an-hour internship. The student complained that the firm was not paying him and was requiring him to make coffee and sweep out bathrooms.
    Ms. Steinfeld said some industries, most notably film, were known for unpaid internships, but she said other industries were embracing the practice, seeing its advantages.
    “A few famous banks have called and said, ‘We’d like to do this,’ ” Ms. Steinfeld said. “I said, ‘No way. You will not list on this campus.’ ”
    Dana John, an N.Y.U. senior, spent an unpaid summer at a company that books musical talent, spending much of her days photocopying, filing and responding to routine e-mail messages for her boss.
    “It would have been nice to be paid, but at this point, it’s so expected of me to do this for free,” she said. “If you want to be in the music industry that’s the way it works. If you want to get your foot in the door somehow, this is the easiest way to do it. You suck it up.”
    The rules for unpaid interns are less strict for non-profit groups like charities because people are allowed to do volunteer work for non-profits.
    California and some other states require that interns receive college credit as a condition of being unpaid. But federal regulators say that receiving college credit does not necessarily free companies from paying interns, especially when the internship involves little training and mainly benefits the employer.
    Many employers say the Labor Department’s six criteria need updating because they are based on a Supreme Court decision from 1947, when many apprenticeships were for blue-collar production work.
    Camille A. Olson, a lawyer based in Chicago who represents many employers, said: “One criterion that is hard to meet and needs updating is that the intern not perform any work to the immediate advantage of the employer. In my experience, many employers agreed to hire interns because there is very strong mutual advantage to both the worker and the employer. There should be a mutual benefit test.”
    Kathyrn Edwards, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute and co-author of a new study on internships, told of a female intern who brought a sexual harassment complaint that was dismissed because the intern was not an employee.
    “A serious problem surrounding unpaid interns is they are often not considered employees and therefore are not protected by employment discrimination laws,” she said.



    comments
     
  2. Katie123

    Katie123 New Member

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    in england, at least in fashion, it's almost an urban legend to get paid in internships. NO ONE does, and everyone expects to be asked to make coffee, stay in the fashion closet etc.

    in every single internship i've done so far, you go to the interview and the person explains what you have to do and makes it sound all so interesting and in the end you have to sweep floors and make tea and occasionally do something that you feel is productive.

    in the one i am right now i've become everything but the person's nanny but she isn't intending on paying me any time soon. i mean, why would she? if i leave, there's a queue of people lining up outside willing to do my position for free. that's why internships in places like vogue uk are so short. 2, maybe 3 weeks. they're not going to give you any responsibility, maybe the occasional courier job, run to fetch coffee etc. by the time you start getting tired of it and thinking you're much too good for that, your time is done and some other eager fashion student takes your place.

    another thing that is important to notice as well is how elitist fashion is in terms of internships. again, at least in the uk, they're all unpaid and the longer you stay there, the best (for your CV and for your 'learning')...so people that need to work part time for a living don't stand a chance compared to wealthy or international students.
     
    #2 Katie123, Apr 5, 2010
    Last edited by moderator : Apr 5, 2010
  3. lucy92

    lucy92 Mod Squad Team Leader

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    i hope each state government crack down on this practice. it displaces workers.
     
  4. CharlottefromCA

    CharlottefromCA User Friendly

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    yeah its just soo true, it gives preference to students who are independently wealthy, to those who do not need to work (for $$$) to pay for rent, food, etc..
     
  5. chichina

    chichina New Member

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    Internships are just something to put on your CV to show that you are so passionate about the career that you are willing to work for free. I think they're ideal for college students really, when you have some time off, to use it productively.
    I did an internship at a newspaper, it was ok, they let me write some things and they would ask for my input. They offered to pay for the cost of my lunches and my travel costs as well.
     
  6. Luda

    Luda New Member

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    My internship was totally illegal. I ended up designing 8 garments which she used in her collection and I didn't get paid a cent, I didn't even get a thankyou. She wouldn't write on my school report that I designed them because she said I didn't design them well, so I just showed them the email to prove it.
     
  7. Mathewthew

    Mathewthew Active Member

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    It's so true, A lots of designer in US , UK, Paris didn't pay as I've heard from my frd......
    But that's how it works....sadly
     
  8. tigerrouge

    tigerrouge don't look down

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    In some places, employers get paid to take such people on, so it works out even better for them. They can make a clear profit from hiring such people, with no obligation to pay for anything.
     
  9. TREVOFASHIONISTO

    TREVOFASHIONISTO Well-Known Member

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    I know most internships in NY are unpaid but they do offer stipends sometimes
    so you can buy lunch or pay for your way there
     
  10. Virlly

    Virlly New Member

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    I was visiting the Bussiness Of Fashion website, when I came accross with this article. I found it really interesting, as I just finished an internship at McQueen myself, and I am so happy to find that someone finally reported this situation.
    I have only been interning in UK, so I don't know how the situation is in other places, I just hope it's a bit more 'legal' everywhere else.
    So I would like to know what you think about it, if it is just a UK thing, and
    how is possible that some big fashion houses behave this way, and they still don't have huge profits.

    From http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2010/jul/24/fashion-industry-interns

     
  11. softgrey

    softgrey flaunt the imperfection

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    if the fashion industry had to actually follow any of the employment laws and statutes...
    everyone would go bankrupt in a matter of months...

    the entire industry is one giant mess...
    a company that cannot afford to pay staff should not be in business...
    it WOULD NOT be in business if they weren't completely abusing people...

    but people keep doing it...
    and the more people are willing to work for free...
    the worse it is for every single person in the industry...
    because for every person working for 'experience'..
    there is a qualified professional who is unemployed...
    young people are naive enough to believe that the hard work will someday pay off...
    but the unfortunate truth is that it rarely does...

    it's a disaster really...
    :rolleyes:...

    good article..
    thanks for posting and bringing in the topic!...
    :flower:
     
    #11 softgrey, Jul 29, 2010
    Last edited by moderator starrb81477: Jul 29, 2010
  12. shockalika

    shockalika New Member

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    Nearly three weeks ago I started an internship at Vogue Russia - a big big big happiness for me as I aim to pursue a fashion journalism career in the future. My dad, as an entrepreneur was disappointed at the fact that I got no contract or document whatsoever. I do realize that this may not be exactly right, but maybe this is how internships in Russia work... I asked the editor who hired me for a recommendation letter when my internships end, and she said that she will have to look at the work that I did. I find her unreliable and wish I had another "headmaster'. Unfortunately the editor who co-ordinates me may not have the power to give me such a letter. Conclusion: fashion internships always carry some sort of risk.
     
    #12 shockalika, Jul 29, 2010
    Last edited by moderator total psycic: Jul 29, 2010
  13. MulletProof

    MulletProof Well-Known Member

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    Interesting article, Virlly. I did an internship last year and I was surprised that I was hired and even offered another placement at a magazine just as long as we agreed there was no payment involved and continued to dedicate the same hours to it. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as the McQueen stories sound but I do remember thinking exactly on what softgrey says, that maybe someone that really wants it, is qualified for it and consequently should be paid for it is the person that should ideally be getting the job instead, not the first person that's willing to do it for free. In some way it's not very different than what's happening in the modeling industry.. if you want to complain about the ridiculous requirements, there's always preference for someone who's willing to overlook them and even take more crap just to get the job. It really is a disastrous situation.. they've been keeping third-world labor standards for too long and seem to keep pushing it even lower these days.. I hope it all ends well cause the path the fashion industry is heading right now will not just generate more pressure and criticism from outsiders but also serious consequences, I think..
     
  14. Spike413

    Spike413 barcode

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    Interesting article. I have to say that even though I have some sympathy for these students and aspiring designers I have to question why on earth they would still be working for a company, regardless of how prestigious it is, after 8 months of working for free and with no guarantee of employment at some point. That just seems incredibly foolish to me.

    I interned while I was in school, but the length of time was pre-set (unless I wanted to continue there by choice) and I was given school credit and a stipend. That's not the norm though, and essentially fashion internships are free labor. On the one hand the experience of working is invaluable, and I think most design schools/programs require an internship at some point as part of the curriculum. But only a fool would stick around longer than a few months slaving away as hard as a paid employee and expecting that they'll be offered a position. From what I've heard a general rule is that the higher-end the company is, the less likely it is that they're looking to hire their interns. The article doesn't seem to prove that theory wrong.
     
  15. sublibrarian

    sublibrarian New Member

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    I have always felt that way about internships, in all areas. It is a faulty system and it doesn't work the way it should work, but at the same time its very difficult to think of better solutions.

    Universities, of course, don't want to spend money building incredibly expensive workshops for students to learn the ins and outs of the professional world, so they relegate this job to companies. In most schools internships are a requirement, so if you can't find a company that will accept you, you can't graduate. But, surely, no company wants to spend their time and money training people that are more likely to **** up than to get the job done. So few of them take interns, and when they do it is seen as a huge favor, so the second they say yes, they basically own you. This of course, translates into a very sick relationship where the company thinks that since they are putting up with this trainee, he might as well make himself useful. So they overwork the intern, and the intern is too busy fawning over the promise of a future position in order to even complain. And this goes on and on.


    Phase two of this deal comes right after graduation. Student A completed his internship, got his diploma, and heads out into the real world. Only to find out that nobody wants to hire graduates in entry levels because the job they would do is perfectly covered by students younger than him that work for free. So then they get organized and complain. The government gets involved, they all want a fraction of the younger slice of the demographic in the next election afterall, so they pass a bill to make all internships paid internships and penalize companies that dont comply. So now the few companies that actually welcomed interns decide to shut down internship programs, because if in addition to fostering someones education, they have to give them a paycheck, well, to put it simply, they are not charity organizations. So now, fewer and fewer students get internships, so nobody can finish their credits, universities keep milking them with monthly tuition fees while they find a sponsor.


    Solutions to this problem? none in sight. Maybe eliminating the whole concept of internships is one? I am not sure.
     
  16. Marchessa

    Marchessa New Member

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    Great topic. I've been thinking of looking in to getting an internship starting around September but some of the stories I've heard are similar to this article. I dont know whether I would be able to stomach it for as long as others have been able to.
     
  17. Luxx

    Luxx oh me, oh my

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    I think this is something that goes outside of fashion even, with any competitive industry there is going to be some amount of using interns beyond the limits allotted by the law. This is in part because the current economic situation demands it, but also because people are very willing and eager to just get a foot in the door and make connections that could lead to something else.

    Is the intern system fair? No, definitely not, but it is a necessary evil in some ways - there aren't enough jobs to go around and having an internship can be at the very least good resume padding
    . I also think it can lead to actual employment, I've been hired at internships I had in the past so getting a job from an internship isn't necessarily impossible either. Perhaps it is rarer this year though, given the situation across the board.
     
    #17 Luxx, Aug 2, 2010
    Last edited by moderator : Aug 2, 2010
  18. luisa

    luisa New Member

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    great article! i was also thinking of trying to get an intership, but this kind of put me off. i think that esp in fashion there are countless people who are willing to do EVERYTHING to get a job, intership, contact whatever and i'm just really really scared of this cold-bloodedness.
    i am aware that there is competition out there but fashion takes it to another level...
     
    #18 luisa, Aug 2, 2010
    Last edited by moderator starrb81477: Aug 4, 2010
  19. Fontenrose

    Fontenrose New Member

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  20. softgrey

    softgrey flaunt the imperfection

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    threads merged...
    thanks for the link!..

    :flower:...

    carry on...
    ^_^
     

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