The term ‘exploitation’ is subjective in nature. Therefore, for the purpose of this argument, let us restrict the definition of ‘exploitation’ to a situation in which a transaction between two parties is “unfair” to at least one party.
Let me clarify that, by the term ‘unfair’ I mean ‘immoral’, as opposed to ‘unequal’.
Work experience is imperative for a good education. Internships are a great way of providing students with the exposure and experience of negotiating theories into practice in real life market conditions.
It gives them an experience of an office atmosphere, office ethics and interaction with co-workers.
This is a great way to ensure that the future generations have a fairly accurate idea of what to expect from life. This also gives them a chance to plan their future, accordingly.
Sadly, this is not a popular option for the students, as most internships are unpaid.
Students who are not economically ‘well-off’ tend to choose summer jobs over internships. In the following paragraphs, I will describe how making it mandatory for employers to pay their hired interns is morally just and socially beneficial.
I agree that even unpaid internships can be considered as mutually beneficial, as the employer gains an extra employee at no charge while the intern gets valuable work experience, which contributes to his education.
But even though this transaction is mutually beneficial and hence, Pareto efficient, it is unfair. It is unfair that an employer pays a regular employee for his work but does not pay an intern.
Agreed, the intern’s work is not as valuable as a regular employee’s work, but that does not mean it is worthless.
Unpaid internships are, in a way, a form of exploitation [as defined earlier].
‘Money’ has a psychological impact on the mind of both the employer and the intern.
If an employer is paying an intern for his work then he will want to make the most out of the resources offered by the intern. In other words, he/she will have expectations of the intern just as an employer would have expectations of a regular employee.
This exposes the intern to a substantial amount of work pressure, which is beneficial in the long run.
Also, with a tangible reward at stake, the intern will take his work more seriously, preventing him/her from slacking off.
Therefore, with the introduction of money, the transaction is made far more beneficial to both parties than in the case of an unpaid internship. In other words, it is Pareto superior to an unpaid internship.
Unpaid interns working for no pay implies that their work has no value, yet at the same time, it is wrong to force wealthy organizations to accept paid internships, as companies have a right to decide whom they wish to employ.
However, those companies who choose to accept interns must pay them a minimum wage, at least.
In her article, ‘Unpaid Internships Exploit College Students’ Labor’, Nomin Ujiyediin rightly states, “Employers that cannot afford to pay interns at least minimum wage should not hire any.”
Now, it may be argued that if this be the case, organizations will stop [or greatly reduce] hiring interns.
But in the field of arts, media and politics—which are primarily industries where interns are not paid—companies greatly benefit from the creative input of youngsters.
Their ideas are potentially worth more to the company than the amount of money they spend on the intern’s wages—there is a marginal benefit for the companies to hire paid interns.
Yet, I feel that it is not enough to simply trust that employers hold value for this creative input. The field of arts, media, politics, etc. are not looked at as ‘financially stable career options’ as say, finance and economics.
This greatly narrows down the employment spectrum and, more importantly, forces students to give up their passions for a higher probability of financial stability.
The field of arts, media, etc. are, therefore, losing popularity. In order to change this perception among the masses and keep these markets from fizzling out, the government must step in.
Here’s an idea: subsidize paid internships. This way, the lesser wealthy companies and organizations will be able to afford paid internships.
Career prospects in the field of arts, media, etc. will also improve, thus increasing employment options. Students will have a greater range of choic, when planning their careers.
Now this raises an important question: from where does the government get the money to subsidize paid internships?
I’m tempted to say, ‘Legalize marijuana, tax it, then use that money to subsidize paid internships’, but lets leave that discussion for another day.
In conclusion, it can be said that internships are an important way to increase the functionings of students.
Unpaid internships ‘exploit’ the interns and, therefore, should be discouraged.
Paid internships should be subsidized by the government, thus encouraging more firms to hire interns.
As a result, the youth is more informed, exposed, experienced and the quality of employment available is greatly improved.