Junior employment minister Jo Swinson has referred 100 companies to HMRC for investigation, after a campaign group suggested that their unpaid internships were in breach of minimum wage laws.

The firms have not been publicly identified, but are said to include a number of household names.

Though businesses are entitled to offer unpaid work experience, they would be breaking employment laws in instances where the responsibilities and working hours of interns are equivalent to those held by full-time employees.

Commenting on the referral, Swinson said: ‘The law on the national minimum wage is clear. If somebody on a work experience placement or internship is a worker under NMW (national minimum wage) legislation, then they are entitled to the minimum wage.’

In addition to the illegality of unpaid internships, critics argue that the institutionalisation of lengthy, unpaid positions as entry points to popular professions is a barrier to social mobility, effectively excluding those without the financial means to support themselves.

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