Britain's counterpart to the IRS, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), sent 102 fashion companies a letter warning them to examine their intern policies. The tax board said it had evidence that many prestigious fashion brands were exploiting interns and treating as paid employees, and cautioned that if these practices didn't change, companies would be at risk of penalties and persecution.
HMRC's Michelle Wyer noted that the letter was a precursor to more direct tactics in the future:
"These letters give fashion houses plenty of warning that they are under scrutiny. If they are not playing by the rules, now is the time to put things right. Non-payment of the national minimum wage is not an option. Our message is clear: don't wait for us to come knocking on your door; put things right now and avoid a penalty and possible prosecution."
Image courtesy of the New York Times
The HMRC's claim that British fashion companies are hiring young people and asking them to work time-consuming, skilled positions without receiving compensation or benefits isn't unfounded. The Guardian reports that Vivienne Westwood offers competitive three-month unpaid positions to candidates with "a high level of prior IT skills." That can't be true, can it? It sounds like Westwood was looking for applicants that were qualified for an entry level job but privileged enough to do without one. That's almost as strange as Urban Outfitters advertising a nine-month unpaid internship to someone that wants to spend nine months ignoring their own needs for someone else's, but doesn't want to be stuck with a baby at the end of it. Just to be clear, there's a difference between these kinds of programs and what an internship is intended for: Topshop seems to be doing it right, offering one-month internships that allow industry hopefuls to shadow the company's employees. A lot of these other companies appear to be taking advantage of desperate, ambitious young people.
At least we know that isn't happening in the American fashion industry.