Policymakers must end 'modern slavery' of exploitative internships

Although internships can provide valuable experience, young people are also being exploited as a cheap labour force, argues Rok Primozic.

By Rok Primozic

08 Oct 2013

People are working long hours for no or very little money. I am not referring to the United States in the times of slavery or the United Kingdom at the beginning of the industrial revolution, but, unfortunately, a reality for some of the interns and trainees around the world right now. This is also the case in Europe and, even more sadly, in Brussels as well - the melting pot of the European Union.

Internships as such are not a bad idea. They can be a valuable learning experience, helping young people to bridge the gap between their graduation and the labour market. But fair compensation, normal working conditions, helpful supervisors and a chance to do some actual work and not run other people's personal errands the whole day are a prerequisite for achieving those goals. Everything else is exploitation.

Not all employers treat their interns in a bad way. There are exceptions that pay their interns a living wage, offer them additional benefits and enable them to get relevant work-place experience, connected to their education. 

The European commission seems to be quite fair in their treatment of interns, although you don't have to look far to see the problems. Some interns in the offices of MEPs are being treated as a cheap labour force and there are thousands of interns across Brussels in companies and NGOs that have to work long hours without, or with very low, compensation.

"As the situation for young people is worsening and youth unemployment is at a record high, there will be more and more desperate graduates willing to find a chance to get some experience, even under very bad conditions"

Young people spotted the problem a while ago and the European students' union has joined the initiative of the European youth forum that has outlined what the internships should look like in the European quality charter of internships and apprenticeships. 

As the situation for young people is worsening and youth unemployment is at a record high, there will be more and more desperate graduates willing to find a chance to get some experience, even under very bad conditions. 

We very much hope that decision makers will hear our requests and set-up a legal framework that prevents such exploitation and gives young people an actual chance to learn something, and stop this modern day slavery.

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