Unpaid Internships

This post is a little self indulgent, but still relevent, I hope. I was browsing through the Guardian long reads when I came across this article. As these articles are by nature long, I’ll summarise quickly.

The article is about how the writer gave up his dream internship because he realised that he was being taken advantage of by being paid so little. He mentions how businesses use unpaid interns to save on costs, while giving the intern some valuable experience and contacts within their chosen field. The only thing is, is that most people can’t afford to go unpaid for six months at a time, and the writer argues how these kinds of opportunities are only availible to people who are more financially stable. ie. people who still live with their parents or people with high earning partners who can support them both. The every day person who has to support themselves (like myself), no matter how great and beneficial the opportunity can’t justify not making money. Like a lot of issues in this country, the best opportunities only seem availible to the elite.

I really feel as though being unpaid for valuable work undermines human rights, but I wanted to research online first to see what other people think. I found this page about an event entitled ‘How unpaid internships undermine human rights’ that was co-organized by the Fair Internship Initiative (FII), Public Services International and the “We Pay Our Interns” coalition representatives. In the page there was a reference to article 23 of the UDHR:

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

I have highlighted in bold the sections of article 23 that I believe unpaid internships violate. If everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work then internships (which from talking to my friends, can be incredibly hard work) then all internships should be paid at least the minimum wage. (Preferably the living wage in my opinion however.) Also, the original article is all about how the writer felt taken advantage of. Surely then this unpaid internship did not ensure him an existance worthy of human dignity?

While I was researching I also found this interesting article about how the human rights sector themselves often exploit young people with unpaid internships. I’ve been looking for internships myself in similar sectors and I can account for this. Somewhat hypocritical, don’t you think?

Environmental Focus

I noticed that although I have covered many human rights and business issues over the course of my blog, one topic I have shyed away from is enviroment as a human rights issue. I decided to do a bit of research and focus on this topic as a whole.

Through my research I found this webpage from the UN. In the legal overview section they state the following:

‘The environment as a pre-requisite for the enjoyment of human rights (implying that human rights obligations of States should include the duty to ensure the level of environmental protection necessary to allow the full exercise of protected rights)’

Cambridge Analytica

I am so excited to be writing this post, as a recent news story has come about that develops upon my blog post from November, ‘The Right to Privacy.’

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed from the title of this post, I will be talking about the recent Facebook data breach by company Cambridge Analytica. A really great round-up of what we know so far has been written by the New York Times and can be found here. To sum up briefly what has happened, however, the data breach occurred when users of a Facebook app had their profile information, and the profile information of their friends was collected by a company known as Cambridge Analytica. This company were hired by Trump’s PR team and the information collected on users was then used to identify the personalities of U.S voters and subsequently influence them.

My dad always warned me to be careful and wary of the things I do on the internet and he (like he usually is) is so right. What does this mean for our right to privacy? Yes, we may have given our profile information to Facebook, but users of that app did not sign up for their information to be sold on to a company that could subsequently influence them.

In my right to privacy post I asked the question: ‘If states could use algorithms to determine what kind of voter someone was, surely they could then target ads to that person to maybe sway their view?’ Now I know the state hasn’t directly used an algorithm to influence voters, but this may be part of the reason why Trump was elected president. This kind of news story leads me to wonder if we really do have freedom of choice, or if our choices are always influenced in some way. This story is surely a wake-up call, for general internet users, in terms of how much of their personal data they give away. But more importantly for states to impose tighter online data protection laws.

Can we trust anything we read online now?

The Glass Ceiling

Following International Women’s day on the 8th of March, this week I wanted to discuss an ongoing battle between women and businesses.  An article entitled ‘Top-paid men outstrip women by 4 to 1, shock figures reveal’ which was published in The Guardian caught my eye. You can find the full article here.

This article notes how new data released by HMRC shows that there is still a huge disparity between the pay of male and female workers here in the UK. I find it amazing that this is still an issue. I would imagine if the original suffagettes could see us today, they would wander what is taking us so long.

This data has been released just before large companies within the UK are required to publish their payrolls by gender. I’m not sure how much of a difference this will make to break the glass ceiling but it’s a step in the right direction.

As I discovered through research for my dissertation, ‘The Modern Slavery Act’ was put into UK law in 2015. This law states that companies must show transparency of their supply chains within their annual report. It was created as a way to highlight and hopefully put in motion an attempt to end modern day slavery. Despite this law being active, many companies have failed to adhear to it with no reprecussions. I must say, my faith in this new law isn’t too strong.

I attended a talk at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative arts on the 28th of February entitled ‘Representing the People?’ The panel was made up of a number of women who have found success in their chosen career path. From director of the Tate; Maria Balshaw, to Catherine Mayer, author and co-founder of the Women’s equality party. The panel spoke a bit about their journeys to where they are now, along with their thoughts on the current state of equality.

The general consensus was that we are in ‘a period of extreme turbulance.’ And although the women discussed how they fear there may be backlash, they were hopeful that we may be in the middle of a feminist revolution.

The idea that gender inequality isn’t going to be solved solely by legislation that enforces ‘quotas’, the idea that companies should be made to employ a certain amount of women. This is simply a fast track way to implement change. This idea is summed up well in the Guardian article on the pay gap:

“There are a number of factors – including better management of women, appropriate senior role models, and breaking down the gender bias – which need to be implemented,” – Brenda Trenowden, chair of the 30% Club, a group which campaigns for more women on company boards.

The Dark Secrets Behind the 2022 World Cup Stadium

This week, a story on the BBC website entitled ‘Worker died in fall at ‘lethal’ Qatar World Cup Stadium’ caught my attention. The story originally caught my eye as I noticed it in the Sussex local news section of the site. Unfortunately the vicitim of the incident was local to nearby Hove.

The story was about how Zachary Cox, a migrant working on the new world cup stadium in Qatar, fell to his death. The accident occured after Mr Cox was given a faulty hoist, which broke while he was working. The coronor announced that his management would have or should have known that the equiptment he was given would be risking his life. This means that this is a blatant human rights violation, obviously violating article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

The part of this story which makes me curious is who would be decided at fault here by law. Obviously, despite this being a failure of a business, only states can commit human rights violations. So would this be the fault of the Qatarian state, the state in which this terrible event happened? Or would it be the fault of the South African government, as he was working for a South African subcontractor? Or would it be the fault of the German government, seeing as the subcontractor was working for a German firm? This is such an internationally interlaced issue, I am intrigued to discover what the outcome of this tragic accident is. Who will be prosecuted?

I realised through reading about this story that I have been somewhat aware of this sort of tragic accident being fairly common place in states such as Qatar. I vaguely remember hearing in the past of horrendous working conditions and workers dying while building being fairly common place. I’ve always wondered why anyone would travel to Qatar to work there, if working conditions are known to be so dangerous. I ended up finding this article from 2015.

Something I am shocked to learn is the need for an exit visa to leave Qatar. I can’t comprehend how it’s legal to be forced to stay in a country, one that you are not a resident of, until the Qatarian governement deem it time for you to leave. Secondly, the amount of deaths, although I’m sure have grown massively in the three years since this article was published, is outrageous. The more I delve into human rights issues, the more I am shocked that these things aren’t reported on more often. There is so much injustice in the world today, and until we come together to work on issues concerning governance gaps, the problems are just going to grow and continue.


My Trip to Den Haag & Visiting the ICC

Last week I was lucky enough to travel to The Hauge to visit a friend. While I was there I was extremely insistent that we would go and visit the International Criminal Court as it’s based there. I had researched online beforehand and learnt that you can actually go and sit in on trials, so I was extremely hopeful that this would be possible.

When we got there, the court was on a break so we decided to go on an audio tour and learn a little bit more about what the International Criminal Court actually does. The aim of the ICC is to give victims of mass crimes, who live in countries with very weak or no legal systems a course to justice. This sparked my interest as a huge focus in class is the idea of governance gaps and the difficulties of gaining justice for victims of weaker states. The ICC is based on a treaty known as the Rome Statute, which has been ratified by many states around the world. The treaty came into effect in July 2002, therefore creating the ICC. It was interesting to learn that although the ICC cooperates with the United Nations, it still remains independent of it. Unlike the human rights violations we have been studying, which can only be committed by states, the ICC tries individuals for crimes such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

Something I found both interesting but also frustrating is that as the ICC was established in 2002, they cannot persecute retrospectively and therefore the accused cannot be tried for crimes committed before then. Something I have been learning throughout this module is that human rights-based law can be quite disheartening, as justice can be incredibly difficult to achieve. However, this is one of the reasons I’m finding human rights law so very interesting.

After the audio tour, it was time to go sit in on the gallery and watch the trial. It was amazing that they allow members of the public to do this, especially as UK courts are so incredibly private. The person who was on trial that day was Dominic Ongwen, a former senior rebel commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army. This may be familiar to some, as Dominic Ongwen would have served the infamous viral internet figure, Joseph Kony.

Watching the trial was so interesting, although not a lot really happened in the two hours I was watching for, just to get an idea of how a court of this nature operates was so enlightening. All of the patrons of the court spoke English, however as witnesses spoke other languages, we had to wear headphones and listen to a live translation that was happening in a separate gallery to us. On the day that I was watching the trial, it was the prosecution presenting the case. The questions asked by barristers were so incredibly in depth, you can really see why trials as serious as this can take such a long time.

Although I’m aware this post has next to nothing to do with the business side of my module, I couldn’t resist writing a post on my experience. It’s not every day you get to sit in on a real human rights trial. Despite this, I can still draw comparisons to the aspects of international law that we have been learning about in class. I would love to go back someday and sit on future trials, it was an amazing experience which I won’t forget.

Brook House

This week, a friend told me about a BBC Panorama documentry entitled ‘Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets.’ You can find the link to the episode here, or a nice summary of the documentry has been produced by BBC news here.

The documentry was about an immigration detention centre called ‘Brook House’ in west Sussex. The centre is run by controversial security company G4S, who have been selected to handle the centre by the home office.

The documentry followed Callum Tulley, an employee of the centre, who had become an undercover reporter for the BBC after witnessing the terrible realities of Brook House. The detention centre was being used to lock up detainees for years, without knowledge of when they would be released, or deported. People who were simply in this country illegally were being kept in the same place as serious criminals and the results are dangerous. Callum witnessed suicide attempts, abusive staff and a failing system.

You can’t lock people up, not tell them when they are going to be released, keep them in the same location as dangerous ex prisoners and expect their mental health to stay in tact. You also can’t expect staff to react well and be able to cope with the actions of detainees who are not behaving in a normal manner. From what I saw of the documentry, it did not seem that staff were correctly trained or monitored, in how to deal correctly with the detainees.

Obviously from a moral perpsective, the abusive staff are at fault here. But so are G4S for allowing this behaviour to continue. From a moral and legal perspective, the home office are obviously the ones who must take responsibility for this. How can they employ a company such as G4S, who have a huge list of contraversial behaviour in their past, to look after these people. In the documentary these inmates are treated worse than animals at times. They are seen as inhuman by staff. The way they are treated breaches almost every article within the universal declaration. There was one section of the documentry where one of the security guards forcefully presses his fingers into the neck of one of the inmates, almost choking him. It could be argued that that one act alone breaks article 1, 2, 3 & 5 in that one simple act.

The documentry was filmed back in september, so I did some research on the Business and Human Rights resource centre to see what has happened as a result of the documetary. I found this article.

Thankfully, legal action has launched against the UK government, and it has been recognised that they take responsibility for the actions taken place in Brook House. Even though the abuse was commited by individuals working for G4S, these actions were just a symptom of the wider issues with the current system in place.

HIV Discrimination

This week I found this article about how workers within the Philippines are being discriminated against because of their HIV status. This means they are being fired because of it, or aren’t even being hired in the first place. I thought I focus too much overall on human rights problems within the UK, and need to branch out.

HIV discrimination is something that still happens all over the world, but has been destigmatised greatly in the UK over the past 30 years or so. It’s such a shame that in the Philippines this still happens regularly.

I am aware that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights covers issues to do with workers rights. This kind of discrimination would be breaking part one of article 6 of this covenant. ‘1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right. ‘ I did a quite google search to see if the Philippines have signed this covenant and they have. They are obviously breaching this by not doing more to protect a human’s right to work.

Although I understand someone with deteriating health may not be an ideal candidate for a job, but here in the UK HIV is no longer a death sentance. Part of the battle to get better medication and cures for conditions is to drop the stigma surrounding them. I do hope that the Philippines takes appropriate action to combat this epidemic.


Torex Gold Mine Blockade

This week I took to a useful resource I have used throughout the year; The Human Rights and Business Resource Centre. I love this resource as it gives you easy access to issues from all over the world that I might otherwise miss using my normal news sources. I clicked on a topic I haven’t looked at before: Freedom of Association. I have to say, I don’t know a lot about this topic (although I probably should.)

A quick google has led me back to the Human Rights Act 1998, more specifically article 11:

Freedom of assembly and association

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
  2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

The article I found under this topic was this one which concerns the removal of a Blockade on the Torex Gold mine in Mexico. I didn’t really understand at first what was meant by a blockade but given article 11 of the Human Rights Act I made an assumption it has something to do with protest. I was right! It was due to a peaceful protest by some unionised workers wanting a change to their labour rights.

I thought this an interesting topic, as I know that extractive forms of production such as mining are riddled with human rights issues. What I found interesting about the statement that Torex made about the removal of the blockade was that they said:

‘ The blockade led to conflict between communities and denied to thousands of citizens their constitutionally protected right to work.’

This shows the difficulty of human rights issues, as it’s likely that the workers protesting were only doing so to improve working conditions for themselves and their peers. However, in doing so this caused the mine to be closed for a number of months which meant a lot of people local to the area must have been out of work. The mention of conflict is unsuprising as I’m sure the whole event would tear apart a community. Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken to combat human rights issues, but then in doing so you can breach the rights of others, in this case the right to work. Which then causes tensions and conflict which can impeach on an individuals right to life. I had to do a bit of digging on this topic but it was definitely worth it.