Candy Kittens, the brainchild of Made in Chelsea star and heir to the McVities throne, Jamie Laing, does not offer pay to his interns.
The gourmet sweet company, which sells bags of sweets for around £2.50 in high-end retailers, including Harvey Nichols and Waitrose, posted two intern opportunities on its site which only covers travel and lunch expenses, despite Laing’s estimated net worth of £2million.
According to the job posts on Candy Kittens’ site, each internship lasts between 1-3 months and all “expenses will be covered for London travel and lunch.”
Whilst it’s not unlawful to not pay interns in certain circumstances, an intern is entitled to the National Minimum Wage if they count as a worker, according to gov.uk.
In Candy Kittens’ case, the internship could fall under the ‘Voluntary workers (with limited benefits)’ category - despite adverts from Laing’s firm not making it clear if it’s a voluntary position or not.
According to a House of Commons Whitepaper, under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, voluntary workers are “interns that are genuine volunteers, under no obligation to perform work or provide services.” These volunteers “will not fall within the definition of ‘worker’ under the 1998 Act and will not be eligible for the National Minimum Wage.”
According to Candy Kittens' advert for a Marketing intern, the intern would be responsible in “[assisting] our Field Marketing Manager in developing our on-the-ground strategy and getting involved in a range of different marketing tactics, as well as coordinating and executing specific brand events.” This definitely sounds like it could be classed as work.
The convoluted and complex nature of the law means employers can and do bypass the legislation, by refraining from providing interns with a contract of employment, despite them undertaking actual work.
This is something that Matt Gingell, Partner at Gannons Solicitors, explained employers need to stop doing. Speaking to HR Grapevine, he said: "Irrespective of whether the business has a legal obligation to pay its interns it makes sense to reach into your pockets. Aside from risking negative publicity, If you don’t offer payment you will be excluding people who can’t afford to do an internship for free and thereby narrowing your pool of talent."
Conservative peer Chris Holmes has previously called on a ban to unpaid internships.
He says that HMRC should investigate companies who advertise for long-term unpaid internships, adding that legislative change could bring clarity to an area “muddied” by organisations that take advantage of the current legislation to exploit young people – The Guardian reports.
Holmes said that the issue was one of ‘diversity and inclusion’ but legal action is rare. He explained: “You’ve got two things going on, businesses that try and actively get around the legislation, and then lots of predominantly young people drawn into this world, who feel they have no choice. If somebody sees this as the only route to get into that particular career, it’s highly unlikely that they would seek to bring a case against an employer.”
In a statement to the Guardian, HMRC restated the current law. A spokesman said: “Employing unpaid interns as workers to avoid paying the National Minimum Wage is against the law and exploitative. If interns are workers, they are eligible for at least the NMW, regardless of how long their placement is.
“HMRC always takes action to ensure workers receive what they are entitled to. Consequences for not complying with paying NMW can include fines of 200% of the underpayment, public naming and, for the worst offences, criminal prosecution.”
Candy Kittens have not yet responded to a request for comment.