Can You Run a Sustainable Company with Unpaid Interns? - By Lynn Anne Miller

The 4GreenPs Blog looks at corporate social responsibility and sustainability communications from a marketer's vantagepoint.
Apr 4, 2011 2:38 AM ET
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Can You Run a Sustainable Company with Unpaid Interns?

As spring approaches, and intern hiring season kicks into high gear, there’s a debate raging in companies throughout the U.S. To pay or not to pay – that is the question.

Unpaid internships – for college credit  – are a longstanding tradition in this country. But somewhere, somehow, the college credits disappeared from many internship agreements, and cold hard cash never took its place.

Businesses desperately trying to grow in these tough times have found a ready and willing crop of students and recent college grads, begging to work – unpaid.

And in the “sustainability sector,” it’s a perfect storm. The struggling “new green economy,” and a surge of interest among college students  in anything smacking of social enterprise, sustainability, green business, and corporate social responsibility led to a situation where it became commonplace for green businesses to openly advertise unpaid internships.  It was a win-win, or so we thought. I’ll admit, the first internship position I posted was unpaid as well.

Few of us thought anything of it. Demand was so great that some firms began charging for internships, or auctioning them off at charity events, as The Wall Street Journal reported.

But in February, the Public Relations Society of America took a stand on the issue, with the release of a Professional Standards Advisory on the Ethical Use of Interns.  The advisory recaps the Department of Labor’s six guidelines for determining whether an employer must pay interns for their work, provides examples of improper practices, and best practice recommendations.

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