An internship at Condé Nast has helped launch myriad fashion industry careers, while drastically improving the coffee-ordering abilities of countless others. However, WWD is reporting that starting in 2014, the media company is abolishing its internship program. Current interns will be able to complete the 2013 program as per their original agreement.
The move comes after internships in the publishing industry have been coming under serious fire, with some claiming that the practice takes unfair advantage interns by treating them simply as unpaid laborers. Just this summer, Conde Nast was sued by two former interns who said they were paid less than minimum wage as interns at W and The New Yorker. One of the most publicized cases around internships was when Xuedan Wang, a former intern at Harper’s Bazaar, sued Hearst in 2012 for violating state and federal wage and hour laws by not compensating her when she was doing the work of a paid employee. While the judge threw out the case, Wang appealed, and the verdict is yet to be reached.
Meanwhile in June, a settlement was reached after two interns accused Fox Searchlight of similar violations. Perhaps it was their successful settlement that propelled Lauren Ballinger, an intern at W in 2009, and Matthew Leib, who worked at The New Yorker in 2009 and 2010, to file their suit against Condé Nast, which is currently pending.
There’s no shortage of controversy where unpaid internships are concerned, with some arguing they provide an unfair advantage to wealthier students, and others saying they’re an invaluable way to gain work experience and network. From a legal standpoint, an internship can be unpaid if it’s of educational value to the intern, which is why many companies require that their interns be able to receive school credit.
Hearst, for example, requires that interns be eligible to receive school credit for their internship, and requires all their interns to submit a letter to HR from their school confirming their eligibility. This partially explains why Wang, a college graduate, lost her case against the media giant. Given that there’s still significant gray area in the realm of unpaid internships—as well as still-outstanding court cases—it’s likely that Condé Nast is looking to get ahead of the issue in ending its internship program altogether.
We can’t exactly blame the publisher, but we’re curious to see how other companies react, and what this could possibly mean for the future of unpaid internships, and the fashion and publishing industry in general.