Unpaid internships: A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

What’s wrong with unpaid internships?? In my opinion, nothing is wrong with unpaid internships, per se.

I know it probably approaches blasphemy for me to say that, considering my entire practice revolves around private enforcement of laws relating to the payment of illegally unpaid interns.? But I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with unpaid internships, any more than I believe there is something inherently wrong with guns.? Or religion.? All of these things can be perfectly great, and useful, when used by the right people with the right intentions.? But in the wrong hands, when people use and manipulate these things for their own selfish purposes, these tools become agents of harm that hurt people.

An unpaid internship, properly implemented, can be a great learning experience, a real tool for personal and professional growth, and a true opportunity to learn practical skills from a master. But just because it can be, doesn’t mean it always is.

The root of the problems associated with unpaid internships is that most employers today do not look at internships as an altruistic way to “give back” to the next generation, or as a way to train potential future employees, or even as a give-something-get-something agreement.? A huge number of employers today use the promising guise of “unpaid internships” to extract free labor from individuals, the overwhelming number of whom are young, at the start of a new career, or in an otherwise vulnerable position, into a give-everything-get-nothing situation, solely for the employer’s own personal benefit.? They’ve realized that by calling something an “unpaid internship,” they can get all the benefits of a worker without having to give a penny of their money or an hour of their time.? That is wrong.

What is an internship?? There seems to be no clear, consistent answer, and employers have jumped on that ambiguity to package any and everything as an “internship,” including what is clearly nothing more than unpaid work.