Scrutinizing that now infamous ‘ ASOS Careers’ photo, I’m being asked to identify the fatal flaw in the image of the young, attractive squad that provoked such outrage in the Twittersphere last week.
A highly unforgiving bunch of tweeters were furious about the alabaster white skin of all the interns. It is the image’s lack of racial diversity that is supposed to cause offence. Why is it then that I am just as concerned about the photo’s caption?
“Our interns have been with us for 7 months now- we don’t want them to go!” reads the ASOS tweet. Surely there lies the first real problem; they are interns. All 14 of them were interns and had been for seven months! The controversy surrounding the image only proves how accustomed we have become to the disturbing internship culture.
Of course, racism in the fashion industry is hugely alarming – covered by Her Campus Nottingham last week – and I, by no means, wish to undermine its prevalence or unfairness. However, on viewing the image, Twitter users made that all too common error of considering internships a privilege; a privilege that here has also not been extended to racial minorities.
This overriding dangerous myth must be dispelled; internships are no privilege. They are a hideously unfair way of ensuring young graduates work – usually for no money – with no job security and few rights. While I cannot speculate as to whether the ASOS interns pictured were paid, the majority of creative internships are not. Effectively, they have become a glamourised form of free labour.
ASOS may have expressed distress in bidding farewell to their team; “We don’t want them to go!” In reality, surely they had the power to prevent at least some of them leaving?
Couldn’t they have offered even one or two real roles? Even if not secure, salaried jobs couldn’t they have come up with temporary paid contracts?
All too often, desperate graduates are strung along for months with the faint hope of employment only to be given the boot at the end of the internship to be replaced with fresher – and even more naïve – meat.
So many will leap at the opportunity too. In these times of economic hardship, internships have become so desired, graduates are forced to battle it out just to obtain one.
The argument is, of course, that internships provide unemployed adults – intelligent and self-respecting graduates – with the opportunity to acquire work experience. However, it seems industries have come to confuse work experience with actual work. Work experience is a young person providing tea for the office in return for the opportunity to shadow a top employee for no more than two weeks before deciding whether to aim in that career direction. It is not a troupe of ambitious labourers actively contributing to the business’ success. A whopping 14 of them working for 7 months at ASOS , clearly suggests to me they were useful. Possibly even invaluable…
The second real problem with internships is the class and geographical elitism involved. After all, creative industries, such as journalism, publishing and fashion, are predominantly based in London. Doesn’t that make it so much easier to do one if your ‘comfortably-off’ family lives in striking distance of the capital?
Unless your conveniently located parents have the financial means to support you through an unpaid internship, who else can live rent-free in the outrageously expensive city ? Even internships that advertise paid expenses are generally unwilling to pay a commute beyond 30 minutes.
So what happens to the poor but talented, ambitious Northern graduate that doesn’t have the middle class money and means to acquire work experience with a leading UK business?
Throughout the UK, people from Black and Minority Ethnic groups are much more likely to be in poverty (with an income of less than 60 per cent of the median household income) than white British people, according to the Institute of Race Relations.
Perhaps this gives us a strong clue about what might really be wrong with that picture …
Edited by Mackenzie Orrock