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 of course 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. For example; 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!) 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 of these organisations, don’t you think?

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