Vogue has been criticised for using unpaid interns in month-long placements despite the new editor Edward Enninful’s commitment to increasing diversity at the fashion journal.
The Condé Nast title told one potential applicant that the “workplace shadowing” role would involve “assisting the fashion features team”, including transcribing interviews, obtaining photographs and fashion samples, and helping with “online content”.
The work is unpaid, but those taking up the post are reimbursed for travel expenses of up to £80 a week.
Tanya de Grunwald of Graduate Fog, a campaigner for fair internships, said she had reported Vogue to HM Revenue and Customs, which monitors payment of the national minimum wage. She said the workplace shadowing roles may amount to the duties of a “worker”, an official employment classification. Under employment legislation, anyone who is acting as a worker must be paid at least the national minimum wage.
Defining a worker relies on multiple factors, which might include an expectation that the person turns up for work each day, that they work set hours and that they undertake tasks valuable to the business. Paying regular expenses to someone can also suggest they are a worker as it might be deemed to suggest that a contract of employment has been agreed.
Condé Nast said workplace shadowing offered “the opportunity to learn how our workplace operates, test their interest in a possible future career, as well as providing invaluable opportunities to network and improving their skillset in relation to future employment”.
It said it did not have a legal obligation to pay the minimum wage to those carrying out workplace shadowing, as they were “in the office to learn, are entirely free to attend external meetings and interviews, and are not obliged to come to the office every day (although for health and safety reasons we do ask that they inform the managing editor if they’re not attending). As such, there is no legal requirement regarding the national minimum wage in relation to workplace shadowing.”
But De Grunwald said the continuing use of unpaid young people at Vogue was disappointing given Enninful’s stated wish to champion diversity. Enninful has said: “We need more diversity, from schools to internships to mentorships. That’s what I try to do.” Unpaid internships are seen to limit diversity because working for nothing, particularly in London, requires considerable financial resources to cover living expenses.
De Grunwald said: “This news is gutting, infuriating and baffling, in equal measure. Everyone wants Vogue’s new editor, Edward Enninful, to bring real change to British fashion, and he seems genuinely committed to improving diversity and inclusion.”