Published on February 19, 2014 | by Danil Boparai

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Unpaid internships protest at London Fashion Week

Girl working on her laptop

Fashion companies and the fashion industry are well known for employing students as unpaid interns. [Ekaterina Anchevskaya]

Protestors against unpaid internships in the fashion industry took their campaign to the main venue of London Fashion Week, Somerset House on Friday (February 14).

They hung a banner which read: “Paying interns is so in this year.”

Students from King’s College London and campaign group Intern Aware joined forces for the demonstration.

“Fashion companies and the fashion industry are notorious for employing students as unpaid interns,” KCL Student Union member Anthony Saw told The Guardian.

“London Fashion Week now occurs every year on our doorstep. This was a perfect opportunity to go out and raise awareness of the issue,” he added.

Despite the fact that many fashion students can barely afford to live in London, many feel that an unpaid internship is the only way to get into the industry.

Exploitative

An LCF student, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arts London News: “I’ve done various internships in the last three years, often being hooked along with the promise of a permanent paid position, but they usually just move you on after a few months and give you nothing for your time.

“I’ve often had to work a full day at my internship on my days off from uni, and go straight to a bar job to pay my rent.”

Intern Aware, who also campaigned alongside UAL students in 2012, has been fighting “for a shift in public consciousness against exploitative, exclusive and unfair unpaid internships”.

The group has helped interns gain settlements from Sony, the Arcadia group and X Factor amongst others and is currently helping fashion student Rachel Watson (a false name given by her legal team), who is suing fashion label Alexander McQueen in a lost earnings claim.

Campaigning

Watson interned at Alexander McQueen for four months in 2009, drawing artwork for embroidery, repairing clothing and dyeing large amounts of fabric for free. She is claiming £6,415 in ‘lost wages’ in accordance to the National Minimum Wage.

The firm, whose late founder and head designer was a CSM alumnus, apologised last year after posting an advert for a “talented knitwear student” to work five days a week for 11 months without a wage.

SUARTS President Shelly Asquith said: “I think as long as the government fails to take action, campaigning has to continue. We need to be reminding the companies who persistently take on workers without paying them that this isn’t just morally wrong but it is also illegal. The McQueen case will hopefully bring home that these people are entitled to the national minimum wage and we will continue to fight for that.”

Separately, it has been recently revealed that Conservative MPs have been sent a memo advising them how to avoid paying interns.

The document, which was revealed by student advice website Graduate Fog, tells MPs: “It is wise to avoid certain words and phrases in job adverts in case they create ‘potentially hostile’ situations with staff,” and warns that the term “intern” does not actually exist in UK law and that someone is either a volunteer or a worker entitled to the minimum wage.

 

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