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Posted by:
Jodi O'Callaghan

The ethics of internships

A recent graduate from a reputable university has been offered the opportunity to work with their dream organisation, reporting to you as the manager of the strategy division. Your organisation has a good reputation for giving graduates internships. But there’s a catch.

The internship is unpaid. On the one hand, the graduate gets ‘work experience’ with a strong brand in financial services, and the organisation gets to ‘reward’ an individual who is willing to work for free. On the other hand, the intern will be expected to work hard – possibly harder than their paid workplace peers – and the organisation gets voluntary unpaid labour.
As the employee being asked to manage the intern, what would you do?

We encourage you to post your answers in the comments so we can create a healthy discussion, with the aim of learning from our peers, becoming aware of differing perspectives and challenging our own biases. 

Please share your ethical dilemmas with us - we can post them anonymously. You can email your dilemmas to dilemma@thebfo.org

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash. 


Adam Fletcher on Saturday, 07 Sep 2019
Unpaid internships are unfair to talented candidates from low socio-economic backgrounds. Foreseeable only those who can afford to work without pay would be in a position to take on the internship. The unpaid role would not offer the candidate employment law protections and potentially put them at risk of being taken advantage of. It is fairer for all for them to be adequately compensated.
Chris on Thursday, 05 Sep 2019
Both the Grattan Institute and Common Grounds have non paid jobs on the Ethical Jobs website today. I think you should receieve at the least food and transport money and if you choose to do work for free you should be formally trained so that you are gaining transferable skills.
Wayne Brazel on Thursday, 05 Sep 2019
I agree that the intern should be paid and I believe in the organisations I've worked in, that this is a requirement. Where there isn't budget for the intern, there is the opportunity for you as the employee to assist the potential intern with mentoring or some career guidance. In my experience, work experience of this nature needs to go for some time before the initial investment in showing the intern the systems and processes is recouped, however that doesn't relieve the organisation of the obligation to pay the intern.
Colleen Park on Thursday, 05 Sep 2019
I don’t see any reason why companies wouldn’t pay all their employees regardless of their employment status. To employ someone without pay, particularly when the employer has a market-leading position or reputation, would be taking advantage of a person in a weaker position.
Joshua Bairstow on Thursday, 05 Sep 2019
As long as the intern is aware of the potential work load, and agrees to it, I don't think there is any issue from that perspective. I do question the reasoning as to why a strong branded company, especially in financial services, would not pay at least minimum wage.
Lucie on Thursday, 05 Sep 2019
In my opinion, interns should be paid fairly. How can you call yourself a reputable organisation if you drive employees hard without any pay? Lack of experience can be simply reflected in the salary/wage level. In my view, and I say it bluntly, taking advantage of graduates without pay borders with modern age slavery.
Jake Wilkins on Thursday, 05 Sep 2019
I believe they should be paid, however their term of employment be capped eg summer holidays, term 3 months. Minimum wage would be appropriate if no prior skill in the industry. Clear outline of career progression and pay grades.

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