On Teaching Fashion: Shared Ethics on Internships


(sourced online)

In the competitive field of fashion, internships have traditionally provided a foot in the door for many students who, during winter or summer sessions, manage to fund an immersive industry experience. As a University Professor, students often request to meet with me to advise them on internships. Beyond our field, there is a conversation in full swing on the ethics of internships. As I educate myself on new guidelines, regulations and read a significant amount of press on the issue of intern labor it seems critical that a road map be developed for myself to share with my students so that they can make good decisions moving forward. I am curious if you have guidelines to offer your students on the ethics of internships? While I am not prepared to share a formal document, I am inviting discussion. What are your internship stories? What resources might you offer? Below are several resources and articles.

While my own experiences as an intern were of the classic “pay your dues” old school ilk, the lessons I learned were from dubious practices. I believe there could be a guide to best practices and shared ethics that we all might use as reference in advising our students. The recently issued New Federal Guidelines on Internships discussed below,  offers guidance.  Key articles that reflect the recent conversation on the ethics of Internship labor are listed below.

The recently issued New Federal Guidelines on Internships could affect the number of internships companies offer in the future. Based on the Fair Labor Standards Ac (FLSA), which was created to ensure that all workers be paid at least a fair minimum wage, the federal government is now cracking down on unpaid internships to discourage employers from the practice of having interns work for free.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act an Internship Program must apply or meet following six criteria:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern. This exclusion from the definition of employment is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of  “employ” is very broad.

(sourced from the Department of Labor)

Below are a few timely articles on the ethics of intern labor:

Greenhouse, Steve. (2010, April).  The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not. The New York Times.

Thompson, Derek. (2012, May). Work Is Work: Why Free Internships are Immoral. Atlantic Monthly.

Weinstien, Bruce. (2013, May) Are Unpaid Internships Ethical? The Huffington Post.

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