Call for PR industry to stamp out practice of unpaid internships

A former chair of the CIPR's Professional Practices Committee has called on PR industry bodies to stamp out the 'odious' practice of unpaid internships.

Vital resource? Firms may value interns but many feel exploited
Vital resource? Firms may value interns but many feel exploited

Robert Minton-Taylor sent a strongly worded missive to PRWeek following last week’s BBC2 programme/PRWeek story exposing top fashion PR agency Modus Publicity for employing up to 20 unpaid interns.

Minton-Taylor, a former director at Burson-Marsteller who now supervises more than 100 PR undergraduates annually at Leeds Business School, said he was ‘ashamed’ of his industry peers.

He added: ‘I’d like to work with the PRCA, for which I have high regard, to devise a code of conduct to rid us of this odious nil pay graduate culture.’

PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham agreed with the sentiment expressed by Minton-Taylor: ‘We need a mature debate, leading to broadly-accepted guidance for the industry,’ said Ingham. He added that the PRCA was currently examining how to broaden access to the industry, including the issue of internships.

But the CIPR said it was not in a position to amend its code of conduct on this issue. Instead, the body has responded to widespread interest in the issue by updating members on its work placement charter. A note to members stated that ‘employment issues are, ultimately, a matter for the management of the agency or in-house team proposing to take on interns’.

Director of policy and comms Phil Morgan added: ‘CIPR has an ongoing commitment to providing best practice guidance to members on internships and work placements through our charter covering this area, which we first issued in 2008.

‘The core of our advice is that in any walk of life and in any profession, long term, unpaid labour is morally indefensible. This not a point of interpretation and there is no mileage for the industry in holding a conversation about its rights and wrongs. This isn’t just about the PR profession. Our guidance reflects Government regulation.’
 
‘All professional bodies support the government’s minimum wage regulations. The more industry bodies that reflect this position the better and we would be delighted to work with any organization that wants to take this issue forward.’

In last week’s BBC documentary, Modus director Julian Vogel told reporter Richard Bilton that interns were ‘a really vital resource’. But he admitted that by not paying them: ‘I do worry sometimes that it does favour the slightly better off.’

Judging by their Twitter feeds, fellow PR professionals were largely unimpressed. But speaking as the programme was due to be aired, a frustrated Vogel insisted Modus was not alone in employing numerous unpaid interns.

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