They said/We said: British-based fashion design houses have been ordered to pay their interns

Photography by Peter Stigter
Photography by Peter Stigter

For the past few months, we’ve been following reports that Britain’s Revenue and Customs is planning a raid on the fashion design houses that benefit from the use of unpaid interns. Yesterday, all 102 companies that participated in last London Fashion Week were issued a warning: starting in 2012, no fashion house, regardless of its size, is allowed to enlist the help of unpaid interns. Each company must either pay their interns at least the minimum wage of £6.08 an hour or find a way to do without.

For some companies, the switch is a fast and easy one—Stella McCartney has already changed its policy, and starting in January will offer paid positions only. This will be more of a challenge for newcomers and smaller designers, whose budgets don’t include being able to pay their extra help. “Most people who are starting out in the industry just don’t have the funds,” explains SIBLING’s Cozette McCreery to Elle UK. “It’s just done with love, and that’s it. When the main designers aren’t getting paid—if you can’t find money to pay yourself—it’s really difficult to find money to pay others.”

Starting in the new year, the HMRC will start “compliance checks” on each of the houses, and any found with unpaid interns will be fined. To boot, any intern found that is working without pay will be given a notice of underpayment, and be backpaid from the day they started.

While the HMRC might be painting fashion internships with too wide a brushstroke, such regulations could be the start of a revolution on all fronts.

THEY SAID…

Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister of Britain: “I strongly urge fashion houses and designer labels to make sure they are treating interns fairly. Where an individual is entitled to the minimum wage they should receive it. Internships provide valuable opportunities and should be available to everyone, not just those who can afford to work for nothing.” [Guardian UK]

Michelle Wyer, HMRC assistant director for National Minimum Wage: “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.” [Vogue UK]

WE SAID…

Jessica Borchiver, fashion intern: “It’s important to set standards where interns are concerned. There are many interns whose experiences in the fashion industry may be under-appreciated or less valuable (if their main task is say, a coffee run) providing an overall negative intern experience. If businesses can’t afford to pay or provide a stipend, then at least allow the interns to gain an experience that is appropriate for the business.”