Internships: Source of free labour for Organizations?

April 12th, 20104:35 am @    

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.

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Nikita is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of She is a lawyer/author residing in Delhi. She believes that increasing legal awareness is the key to ensure social justice and simplification of law is the means to achieve it. She writes articles on social and political issues for various platforms in English and Hindi.

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