Internships: Source of free labour for Organizations?

To secure a good job a student needs internships under his belt. It is a common trend especially among students who are pursuing professional courses. These internships are basically divided in two categories – Paid and Unpaid.  Paid internship is the one for which a student gets stipend whereas for an unpaid internship no stipend is given.

The reason for writing this article (as suggested by the title) is that the increasing trend of unpaid internships. Due to the recession and crashing of world markets internees have proved to be good source of free labour for various profit earning organizations. Its heat is specially being faced by United States of America. The labour department of USA is now cracking down on organizations which fail to pay their internees properly and is trying to educate students regarding their rights as an internee as well.

[Photo Courtesy of Matthew Cavanaugh, via The New York Times]

As a law student myself I am required to go for internships with Law firms, Companies, NGOs etc to enhance my CV and to get placement with a good package. As a matter of principle I expect my future employer to pay me for my work/job. Who wants to work for free? Even my little cousins demand something in return if I ask them to do a simple household chore! Then why I should work as an unpaid internee when the organization derives advantage from my hard labour? Isn’t it my right to get paid?

This particular aspect had never hit me before. I used to think that when a student gains practical experience and knowledge by an internship then why expect monetary return as well? The answer to this was not as straight as u think it must have been, it requires a little explanation –

Though internship essentially means acquiring knowledge and learning the practical aspect of your trade but there is a category of internships which involves non-educational menial tasks (unskilled work like attending calls, fetching coffee, carrying around and passing the files etc). Here, you literally do nothing but take the internship because it will look good in your resume. Such an internship is definitely a glossy (but useless) addition to your CV and you should not expect stipend for it.

But what about the scenario where you slog till two at night, preparing documents for the firm’s client to be filed in the court next day? Or made to analyse huge data on the marketing strategy of the company which will be used by the departmental head for his presentation? These tasks involve your skills and it in my view it is your human right to receive remuneration.  A student is definitely not a free labour!

[Photo Courtesy of Number Seventeen, NYC, via the New York Times]

Another point which I would like to raise here is the afford-ability of an unpaid internship. With sky-high fee structures of professional universities, the lodging and travel expenses involved to undertake an internship might not be possible for every student. Is it fair that a student becomes less competitive because someone else’s parents were able to foot the expenses involved in the unpaid internship?

There have been some cases where internees were not paid the stipend as promised. They do not even go forward and complaint because they fear that they will be branded as “troublemakers” in the field and it might adversely affect their future prospects.

There is a need of prompt action on the part of the legislator to enact law to curb such unhealthy practices. Paid internship is right of a deserving student. They are being unduly exploited in the pretext of lack of jobs and pressure to make resume stronger. I do not say that “unpaid internships should be declared illegal” but the profit earning organizations which derive direct advantage from the work of their internees must pay for it as a matter of principle and basic human right.

By Nikita Anand on April 12, 2010 · Posted in Human Rights

24 Comments | Post Comment

Ankit Duseja says:

Awesome article nikita.. Btw even we would be having internship in next semester.. I appreciate your view..

Posted on April 12th, 2010

Nikita Anand says:

Thank you Ankit! I am glad you found practical application of my article!

Posted on April 13th, 2010

Phinoj K A says:

Hi Nikita,
Thanking you for such a thought provoking article..!!

This same scenario is existing in the field of Paramedical Education too.. The Physiotherapy / occupational Therapy internees needs to work without any renumeration.(even though they are treating the patient like a clinical staff and quiet often they have to do night duties also the interns supposed to do)

As you rightly said, the students are not able (ready?!)to react against this because of the fear and many times the number of interns is also very less in those institutes.

Can u please tell me more about this point… “The labour department of USA is now cracking down on organizations which fail to pay their internees properly and is trying to educate students regarding their rights as an internee as well.”
what is the reference for this..??
because we are thinking to put forth this point in one proposal for stipend…

thank you…

Posted on November 25th, 2010

Nikita Anand says:

I had come across the news in the New York Times. For specific reference please follow this link- It lays down the Labour department regulations regarding internships in USA.

Posted on January 28th, 2011

Bhavtosh says:

nice, a highly commendable article.

Posted on May 13th, 2010

Arpita Seth says:

Awesome Nikita!!
You hit the basics! Keep up the good work!

Posted on August 27th, 2010

Nikita Anand says:

Thanks for all the encouragement Arpita!

Posted on August 27th, 2010

R.Bhavesh says:

A really good, thought provocatin article. I will take an opposite perspective though.

What makes a newbie think that just because they studied 5-10 books each year for few years makes them ready to get the real job done? Apart from those smart 5% newbies, most of them have no clue how the things are handled and how the things are done in actual business, actual world.

Internship helps them understand this things. Let us say for example internships are paid. What actually happens here is interns earn but organizations rarely do. Infact, organizations invest their time and train them. And once their internship is over, they rarely stay in the same organization and instead, start taking the jumps from one organization to other for the salary hikes. The organization which have invested their time and training for them does not get anything in return because just when the person is ready to be utilized for the tough jobs, they flee.

Ofcourse I know what you have written is from the other perspective, above is my perspective as a business owner (I didn't keep any interns till date though 🙂

Posted on September 25th, 2010

Nikita Anand says:

Bhavesh..I am glad you liked it. Yes I respect your perspective. But the later part of your comment does not depict the situation of an intern rather it summarizes attitude of people towards corporate jobs.
You might have some surprising changes in your perspective after you have had your share of interns!

Posted on September 25th, 2010

Divya Tripathi says:

Nikita mam,u r awesome

Posted on December 5th, 2010

Nikita Anand says:

Thank a lot Divya. I am delighted that you think so. 🙂

Posted on January 28th, 2011

SG says:

Well there are some firms which pays on the basis of the work done and the profit earned by the firm. Anyone who has ever gone up to the HR Department of a firm and demanded for a stipend. Any true stories. Please share, so that others can also stand up to such “bloodsuckers”.

Posted on April 6th, 2011

Nikita Anand says:

People do not dare standing against such firms. Since they are spiring for a job in the same industry, they can’t afford to bear the brunt of the firm and being tagged as troublemakers.

Posted on April 7th, 2011

SG says:

Hi Nikita,
Well someone or the other have to get their hands dirty. It has never been tried. But there is always a first time. Moreover, forget about getting paid, interns do not even get acknowledged for the work done in a firm. For example most of the articles, notes, essays written by erudite partners of the firms is the handiwork of some hapless intern who never gets the credit for his hard work.

Posted on April 7th, 2011

Nikita Anand says:

I totally agree with you. . Exploitation is at its peak when it comes to internships.Its just that I do not know of any incidences where somebody protested against it. If I get to know I will definitely get back to you.

Posted on April 7th, 2011

anand says:

Hi Nikita,
I am chartered accountant and i felt the same when i was doing my articleship while i was a student.I always advice Never ever protest during internships/ articleship.Establish yourself proffesionaly then u try to be fair to ur interns or articles whomsoever.

Posted on May 4th, 2011

Nikita Anand says:

Yes, considering today’s situation your advice is acceptable. I don’t disagree. But if a person is made to work for hours altogether on the name of internship without any stipend, there arises a need for laws to put a check on such exploitative practices.

Posted on May 4th, 2011

Amit says:

Hi Nikita,

Maybe you are crying over unpaid internships because you did not try and get one in Down Under Australia. Here Paid internship means YOU pay THEM to keep you for free and give you a certificate at the end of your slavery period.

Posted on June 14th, 2011

Gargi Sharma says:

My college HNLU says “Students are not to solicit for any remuneration/ honorarium and/or reimbursement of any expenses from the Advocates/Institution of internship/placement concerned.”

What do we do now?

Posted on June 18th, 2011

Nikita Anand says:

Gargi, I think this implies that the lawyer/firm may give you stipend voluntarily. You may not ask them for the same. If this is not the case then I think your student body needs to talk to the admin.

Posted on June 19th, 2011

Shreya Sarkar says:

Well done Nikita! Even I thought the same way but never knew that from where to proceed. But you showed me a path & I want to follow it.
I am a IVth year law student & a resident of Delhi. If you ever need any kind of help, I’ll be happy in working with you.
Hope you will appreciate my thinking.
Shreya Sarkar

Posted on March 12th, 2012

Nikita Anand says:

Thank you Shreya! Your help is deeply appreciated. Would be happy to have you with us on our team of auhors if you wish. 🙂

Posted on March 13th, 2012

Ankit Kumar says:

Awesome article nikita mam… I appreciate your view..

Posted on April 14th, 2012

Nikita Anand says:

Thanks Ankit 🙂

Posted on April 15th, 2012