Being a fashion intern sounds like a really horrible job. In fact, I can say with no hesitations that I would never agree to being an unpaid intern in the fashion business. I don’t care if you promised me a pile of riches and a designer wardrobe for the rest of my life when I was done, I wouldn’t last more than a day or two. I think the business structure that relies on unpaid interns to do the work that should be given to paid employees is dishonest. Therefore, I don’t choose to take part in that business.
So, you would think that I would sympathize with crusading young intern Xuedan Wang, who first sued Hearst Corporation in February and is now taking on Dana Lorenz‘s Fenton Fallon jewelry company. In both lawsuits, Wang claims that she did the work of a paid employee, but received no compensation because she was classified as an intern. So instead of just ignoring the problem like I choose to, this young woman is challenging the industry to change a practice that she finds unfair. I kind of love her for that.
That being said, I’m not a very litigious person. I don’t think lawsuits are the answer to everything. I don’t think they’re appropriate to deal with every complaint. And legal action sometimes doesn’t work as a political statement, because it’s so often brushed aside as being fueled by greed. The argument can be made – and I’m sure that it will be – that Xuedan Wang knew exactly what she was signing up for when she agreed to take the job. And now, for a second time, she’s suing a company for behaving the same way that every other business in the fashion industry does.
There are ways to promote a cause without going to the courts and demanding a payout. The question of fairness with unpaid internships is one that’s hotly debated right now. And if Wang really believed that the system was flawed, why did she sign up for it all over again? Why would she take on another unpaid internship? It now seems like she’s just hoping to exploit a new employer. Maybe she wants a book deal, because I can’t imagine anyone hiring her now. I don’t know where the next career step would be.
I agree that the system of unpaid internships needs to be looked at. I think companies that use these college kids like workhorses need to be held accountable. There’s only so much “work experience” you get from doing menial labor, no matter what company it’s for. So I have to say that I appreciate this young woman standing up for her rights and bringing the conversation back to the forefront of the news cycle.
And then there’s this part of me that says, “She knew! She knew what she was doing!” This woman signed up for another unpaid internship after suing her first one for compensation. Then, just a few months later, she’s back in the courtroom. Did her lawyer have a two-for-one special going? That seems pretty skeazy to me. And taking advantage of these companies, making them look like the victims, definitely isn’t helping fix the problem of unpaid internships.
What do you think? Do you love or hate the intern making fashion companies everywhere fear the legal prowess of their coffee fetchers and schedule organizers?