By MONICA SHARMA
The publishing giant Condé Nast has terminated its summer internship program. The decision coincides with a lawsuit filed by two former interns against the company, alleging that while interning for Condé Nast they were paid a negligible amount (well, below minimum wage) and worked exorbitant hours. The termination of the program has far-reaching consequences. Condé Nast manages 25 different publications, The New Yorker, Vogue and Vanity Fair, among others.
Unpaid internships have become a source of contentious debate throughout the country. Companies with similar intern programs could face litigation from disgruntled interns as the issue becomes increasingly public. Condé Nast is one of the first companies to end their internship program, but they will certainly not be the last.
The arguments against unpaid internships are plentiful. Summer internships, once thought to provide students the opportunity to explore potential career paths, have deteriorated into frantic networking and shameless self-promotion by interns desperate to receive full-time employment offers. In a hypercompetitive job market, internships provide the much-needed edge to recent college graduates seeking employment. Interns are willing to be overworked and overstressed with no monetary compensation, in the hopes that their obedience will procure them a job.
Those opposed to unpaid internships stress that the intern must be reimbursed if their work benefits the company in any way; otherwise it is a violation of labor laws established over 70 years ago. The former interns involved in the Condé Nast suit claimed they completed the same tasks as paid employees, and were therefore entitled to adequate pay.
However, often the work completed by an intern benefits both the intern and the company. Part of the value of an internship is the hands-on experience and first-hand knowledge that other young graduates lack. Several current Condé Nast interns have publicly expressed their displeasure at the decision. They believe that their internships have provided them with important industry exposure that will tragically be unavailable to future students. The potential connections and job recommendations are priceless in a turbulent economy. Unpaid internships can offer valuable experience and training to the interns that help groom them to be productive and professional employees.
The crux of the problem is quality control. The quality of the experience is entirely at the discretion of the employer. Huge corporations like Condé Nast that employ hundreds of interns every summer do not have the necessary manpower to monitor the treatment of each individual intern. Therefore, there exists an unavoidable risk of exploitation or mistreatment. It seems that Condé Nast is about to discover the price of that risk.