An Employer’s Guide to Internships

If you know a young person or someone who has been young in the past 10 years, you’ve probably heard an internship horror story. If not, a simple internet search should fix that…or just keep reading, because you’re about to meet one.

career fair
A student inquires into an internship position with IBM at a career fair thrown by a university.

Hi. My name is Sierra Schellenberg. I’m 22 years old, and I just graduated college. I’ve had an internship every semester and summer as an upperclassman, and most of them have been pretty close to useless. Though competition’s tough in this division, probably my worst internship was my last one at a news blog. My average work tasks there included stealing pictures from Google, finding news stories for the other writers to blog about, and blogging my own stories. I would have gladly put up with the more inane tasks if I’d gotten any sort of guidance for my writing, but this wasn’t the case. My articles were scantily edited (my early portfolio is riddled with errors) and forget any sort of help with style. They’d often ask me to write about topics I had absolutely no claim to expertise in, such as the 10 best places to get margaritas in the city (I’d never had a margarita in my life at that point) or a critical analysis of the city’s budget plan (my degree is in philosophy). Sometimes they’d straight up forget to post my articles—which actually wasn’t that bad when compared to my previous internship, where a staff writer would post articles I’d written under her name. When I told my supervisor I was getting nothing out of my time there, he consented to give me some technical training, which lasted 10 minutes.

You might be wondering why I submitted to such a terrible situation. Easy: every paid writing position I looked at requiring at least two years experience in the field. My ex-employers aren’t alone in taking advantage of the current job market and cultural climate to exploit young workers, as a simple internet search will tell you.

Employers often hire interns to work for little or no pay, often asking them to perform menial tasks that don’t contribute anything new or relevant to their skillset. And interns often comply, all in the name of a good reference, networking opportunities, or exposure, even when the experience forces them to go into debt or a 40 hour plus work week.

While I’ve since moved on to a much better environment (shout out to Green America!), I’ve been hoping to write more about the toxic culture of internships. So when my editor proposed doing a follow-up series to a piece on worker exploitation here in America, intern exploitation came immediately to mind. While not quite as vile as some of the working conditions imposed upon immigrants, internships are nonetheless a sector of the American workforce where exploitation runs rampant.

Here are some ways you as an employer can go above and beyond the legal minimum for ensuring a fair workplace for interns.

NOTE: While I do reiterate the law here, this post should not replace legal counsel! Continue reading “An Employer’s Guide to Internships”

Green Americans in India

I recently traveled to India with the Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) that developed a Fair Trade pilot standard for garment manufacturing. Basically, we were in India to meet with Fair Trade producers along the clothing supply chain. To my surprise, who I ended up meeting, more than 8,000 miles from my home, was a group that truly embodies what Green America means when we say green – the intersection of social justice with environmental sustainability.

Members of Chetna Organic Farmers Association

Perhaps it was ignorant for me to assume that producers making poverty wages would not care about conserving natural resources and protecting the environment.  After all, here in the States the term “environmentalist” and “affluent consumer” seem to be used interchangeably by some, and the producers we met in India were far from affluent. Well, we all know the truth about assumptions… they’re often wrong.  What I learned from the cotton farmers, the artisans, and the factory workers we met during our trip was that they shared a deep concern about the environment, about climate change, and about the health of their communities.

In Mylaram, a village south of Hyderabad with about 250 cotton-farming households, we met a group of organic vegetable farmers, who are part of the Chetna Organic Farmers Association.  What stood out, more than anything else, was the utter importance of organic farming methods for worker and community health.

Organic farming in India

In India, there is no monetary incentive to growing organic—the government subsidizes fertilizers.  Plus organic farming requires much more intense and constant labor.  And yet, these farmers were insistent on the benefits of organic farming, not only because it protected their community from exposure to harmful chemicals, but also because it gave them good, healthy food to eat.

The group told us about the pesticide-free food their parents had grown, and how it was so much healthier than the food grown in India today (largely from GMO seeds).  They believed that non-organic food had been the cause of many of their community’s health problems.  Now that these farmers have converted to organic their soil is much more fertile, their yields are consistence regardless of rainfall, and they have healthy, local food for their families to eat.

Unfortunately, the Indian market for organic food is still in its nascent stages.  After these farmers feed their families, they sell their leftover produce at the market at conventional market prices, with no premium for their organic certification or extra labor.  And STILL these farmers insist on organic farming. They have seen the negative effects of conventional farming on their soil, and on themselves, and it’s their goal to leave something better for their grandchildren.

Video Game Teaches Kids About Sweatshops

Via Wired UK comes news of a new educational video game.  The “Sweatshop” game is designed to teach young people about how the pursuit of ever-increasing profit margins leads to sweastshop working conditions in factories churning out consumer goods.  Players learn about the “race to the bottom” in a hands-on way.

Says Wired about the game’s intentions: 

As young people generally have limited disposable income, they are likely to buy cheap, fashionable clothes from high street retailers who often drive down their prices by employing sweatshop labour. The game intends to educate its player as to the conditions of many of the workers in sweatshops, based on current research and information. It seeks to highlight the conditions of workers, but also inform as to the wider pressures that have brought this particular system into being, highlighting the role of clients, factory owners, managers and workers down the chain. A game seemed like a super good way to achieve this.

Read Wired‘s article »

We Want More From Our S’mores

We’re kicking off the summer camping and picnic season this July Fourth with a new way to support Fair Trade and put pressure on Hershey to clean up its supply chain.

Please join us in our new “we want more from our s’mores” campaign and make all of your summertime s’mores with Fair Trade Certified™ chocolate. (Find the best companies ranked on our chocolate scorecard.)

Then, to join with thousands of others who are using their summertime snacks to take a stand for Fair Trade, here’s the plan:

  1. Register your s’mores — Between now and the week of Labor Day, we’ll cumulatively total how many Fair Trade s’mores have been made across the United States. (You can find vegan marshmallow recipes here.)
  2. Send us Hershey petitions — At your s’mores event (or any event) collect signatures demanding better from Hershey. Send them in, and we’ll forward them on to Hershey at the end of the summer.
  3. Send us a photo — We’re also collecting a “photo petition” for Hershey. Print out these signs (or make your own), and send us a photo asking Hershey to go Fair Trade.
  4. Host a Dark Side screening — The film The Dark Side of Chocolate takes you behind the scenes and onto the cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast where children are trafficked to work harvesting cocoa beans. Share this film in your community to raise awareness of the problems in the chocolate supply chain.

Also, remember when you shop for your s’mores to ask for Fair Trade chocolate if your supermarket doesn’t carry it, or thank them if they do. You can find resources to help “Fair Trade Your Supermarket” on our campaign site.

What do we want? Fair Trade! When? Now!

Wednesday June 8th was a sizzling day to be in Times Square, and not just because it was 97 degrees and sunny! Students and others from across New York and even further came together in front of the Hershey store to say “What do we want? Fair Trade? When do we want it? Now!”

In fact, so many people showed up for the “Raise the Bar, Hershey” Rally that we had to expand to both sides of Broadway. We shouted call and response chants from one side of the street to the other to make sure that everyone in Times Square could hear what we were asking for.

Students from Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, New Jersey and others came to the rally as a field trip, since they had been learning about social justice in their classrooms. Many of them had made posters with original messages like “Hershey Tastes Good, Feels Bad”. See pictures from the rally here.

Continue reading “What do we want? Fair Trade! When? Now!”