Imagine sitting in a lecture, dreaming of spending the holiday jetting off and spending an exciting few months of travelling, far away from essays and deadlines. Suddenly, someone comes in offering the opportunity to do just that, whilst earning some cash and work experience at the same time.
Sound too good to be true? It is. When the American company Southwestern arrived in lectures this term, they offered a so-called ‘Summer Internship’ only to be uncovered as door-to-door book floggers. Selling books, bought at wholesale price from the company, is hardly what most people would think of as an internship opportunity. In fact, Southwestern have already been banned from Edinburgh University for advertising under false pretences.
This leads to the obvious question – why did York let them in? Although the University have stated that the company overstepped its boundaries by appearing in lectures, they did have permission to pitch their ‘internship’ to students outside this time. The University is there to vet companies that it allows on site, so the fact that they let one in that has such a questionable reputation does not encourage confidence. We are paying for an education to provide for our future and so surely they should be looking closely at opportunities that might damage that future?
What is most disturbing is the way that the company hides this rather dubious concept behind the shiny veneer of its website. The page touts video testimonials of happy, smiling students who gleefully describe how the program has changed their life and earned them thousands of dollars in the process. And the company logo proudly promises 150 years of excellence in the field of selling books.
Students are promised free training and sample materials, whilst being assured that they won’t have to pay for any books they have sold until the end of the summer. There is even a section for parents to find out what their little darlings will be up to over the summer. So far, so good. But look closely, and a different picture of working for Southwestern emerges. In the FAQ section, sellers are “encouraged” to have a car, something that UK students would have to struggle without or go to the expense of renting. And these expenses go further – whilst places with host families are available, they are not guaranteed, meaning that students could be left stranded on the street.
as gullible English students we are an easy target for money grabbing companies
Even more worryingly the company even has a bad reputation in America. They have been criticised for instructing sellers to ask impertinent personal questions about the ages of the children residing in the houses they are pitching sales to. In fact, one of their sellers made residents of Hernando, Florida, so unsettled they called the police. For a student attempting to build up their work experience credentials and credibility, Southwestern should be a company we avoid.
The company’s stance on working hours is also pretty unconvincing. The ‘most successful’ candidates will have to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, whilst going to additional training (at extra cost) on Sundays. But that’s alright because at least you are rewarded with a big cash pay-out. Until you discover you’ll be paying for living costs, flights there and back, the training…it suddenly becomes apparent that as gullible English students we are an easy target for money grabbing companies.
After looking at the facts, it is easy to question the ethics of such a company. Although it might be easiest to just point our blaming finger across the Atlantic, the real problem actually lays at our feet on this very campus.
Southwestern should not have been let in. It is irresponsible and lazy of the University not to first check the credentials of companies wishing to advertise their ‘internships’. Let’s hope that York joins the list of universities banning this exploitative company.