Are unpaid fashion internships inherently exploitative?
Not getting paid for your work is bad. But paying someone else for the opportunity to get a job is even worse.
And according to a new report, that’s exactly what’s happening at entry-level positions in the fashion industry: Interns can pay more for the “privilege” of doing an internship than they are paid to work.
“Even when fashion interns are paid for their work, more often than not the payment is so low that students are forced to take out loans and depend heavily on family and friends for financial support to complete the studies. cooperatives required for graduation “, explains a report titled “The dream will never bear fruit” from Sustainable fashion initiative at the University of Cincinnati.
The report, which is based on two years of research by students Draven Peña, Alexa Ream and Elie Fermann and supervised by Liz Ricketts of The OR Foundation, goes on to say that “on average, a fashion design student at the University of Cincinnati pays $ 37,607.50 for expenses related to his internship experiences.”
While some of the research in the report focuses specifically on the University of Cincinnati, much of it applies more broadly to student-mode interns across the United States. a few hundred more, it highlights the issues with the current fashion career internship pipeline.
The report highlights the gap between the expectations that students often have about internships – that they will lead, in the long run, to financial gain – and the reality that they may be just as likely to put on internships. students (especially low-income students) go into debt. The report notes that 77.8% of those surveyed said they had received financial assistance from their family to make the internship viable.
“What can low-income and lower-class interns do when these resources are not available to them? are all forced to give up this opportunity, ”write the researchers. To this, they add anecdotes from individual respondents, such as one who took out a loan of $ 15,000 to cover internship expenses.
It might be slightly easier to justify if mode internships reliably resulted in useful connections, professional skills, and mentors. But the report describes the opposite reality: trainees are required to perform menial tasks and do not leave with a real professional training, or are totally ignored by supervisors who are supposed to guide them. This is to say nothing of the sexual harassment, verbal abuse, sexism and racism that other former interns have described having faced on the job.
“Brands, how will you achieve diversity and inclusion goals if the only people who can afford unpaid internships are white? Ask the researchers. It’s a question that seems more relevant than ever in 2020, as companies scramble to adequately respond to the public outpouring of support for movements like Black Lives Matter.
The SFI report does more than highlight the problems associated with the current functioning of internships. It also provides some guidelines for moving towards a fairer entry-level fashion pipeline, including more payment transparency, CFDA oversight, and mentoring guidelines.
“Prioritizing the paid fashion workforce will provide the foundation for initiating the positive changes necessary for the survival of this industry,” the authors write.
Read the full report here.