The Importance of Being Ethical

By: Rina Shamilov  |  October 20, 2021

By Rina Shamilov, Staff Writer

Internships promise college students an array of opportunities, experiences, and a work environment that will foster better networking and people skills. Although this can be true, most internships underdeliver on this promise and instead leave a weight of boredom and busywork, all the while not paying their interns much or at all. 

My past two summers have been filled with internships; different ways I could keep busy to dull out the banality of the summer. Even though putting them down on my resume made me stand out from other potential interns, I didn’t feel fulfilled in the slightest. Instead, I was doing mindless and easy work that was dumped onto me by an unbothered professional. I wasn’t paid and I didn’t get to network as much as I was promised. Furthermore, I wasn’t taught how to correct my mistakes from my superiors and was supposed to teach myself. I had surprisingly long hours and high demands, yet felt undervalued and interchangeable. At the end of the day, I cannot say that I walked away with any beneficial experience at all. The right work environment, I believe, should allow interns to celebrate their accomplishments and improve on their fallbacks. 

Meredith Gonsalves, author of “Why It’s OK To Hate Your Internships” notes that ultimately, what she needed from her internships as a teen was to figure out what she specifically did not want or like in a work environment. Even though she reflects poorly on her impressively underwhelming internship for CBS, she is nevertheless thankful to have had an experience that allowed her to sift through corporate “red flags” and determine what kind of work environment she was looking for.

I believe that the causes of internship/ intern disparities run much deeper than a general lack of disrespect on a manager’s part. It appears that the structural setup of any internship (and even most jobs) runs much deeper due to our general capitalist, money-motivated society. 

More than 40% of US internships are unpaid. According to the Department of Labor, unpaid internships are illegal as they employ essentially slave labor. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich outlines the very specific criteria of what would make an internship legal:

  • The internship benefits the employee, not the employer.
  • An internship’s compensation should be more than just a promise of a job.
  • It does not replace paid employees.
  • It offers genuine education for the intern.

Interns are often too scared to complain against their bosses as they fear being written off from potential employers, reports The New York Times.. It appears that they are being manipulated time and again into being docile, defenseless, and obedient– the ideal worker who won’t rise against their employer. 

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), released a study in 2014 that suggests that hiring rates for those who have held unpaid internships are only 0.9% higher than those who have no internship experience at all. 

But what happens to students whose parents cannot support them financially, say, if they come from immigrant families and need to both help their families out and find ways to get ahead? They end up having to reject internships and the “networking” opportunities that are promised. Some college courses require internships, which places an undue burden on those who simply cannot afford one. 

You may say that they have a choice in the matter, that they don’t need to pursue an internship, but I think that the toxic immortalization of capitalism ensures that workers will never have true freedom unless they exploit someone else. Internships are only the backdrop, the playing field for the harsh reality of our times. And while I’ve been involved in non-profits that looked out for impoverished communities, I still believe that the nature of internships is entirely unethical.  Regardless of where you go, you will be reduced to just another cog in the machine, another piece that will help the CEO of your company increase profits while undervaluing your work. Interns especially are susceptible to this, and their inability to speak out comes as a shock to no one. Yet it is appalling that their labors are being taken advantage of without so much as a worthy compensation.