Unpaid internships have become a big, exploitative, self-perpetuating circle in India, where countless graduates enter into these internships every year to gather that all important marker for employment – experience. Since most companies insist on a certain amount of work experience before they hire for a particular role, the only avenue for many fresh graduates is to allow their labour to be exploited via internship work over a specific period of time.
These internships, complete with certificates and other such ‘benefits’ meant to make an intern more ‘employable’, are often packaged – explicitly or more subtly – like a service with the intern being the customer. They are marketed similarly to educational programs or training camps, with students being given an ‘opportunity’ to learn the ropes of work, with the potential of becoming more ‘productive’ members of this toxic work culture in the future.
But truth is, they are still doing a significant amount of work for the company in the process, especially cumulatively, for little to no pay. They are thus earning the very right to be paid for their work – through free work. And by turning this internship “culture” into a social necessity, thus paving the way for fresh, unaware graduates to enter the cycle in huge numbers, the internship market is ensuring that it stays skewed in favour of unpaid labour. One might be tempted to say that what these interns are truly being trained for is future exploitation through the undervaluing of their labour.
As such, in a cruel but smart trick, the more sought after the company (and therefore the certificate), the more exploitative the internship programme is likely to be. As this video shows, it’s about time we stop thinking of the very right to earn our livelihood as a service or an opportunity being provided by companies for our benefit. If the #FutureOfWork for India’s youth is to be fair, unpaid internships need to go.