The think tank Civitatis International has been criticised for charging its interns £300 for a job reference.
Jan Mortier, founder and director of the organisation, called the charge a “fair administrative fee.”
Civitatis also sparked concern when it was revealed that its three-month work experience, which it ran until last year, cost interns upwards of £1600, despite not providing a qualification or guaranteed job at the end.
Civitatis International describes itself as “a truly impartial global foundation for international peace” that is “committed to promoting peace, dialogue and cooperation between nations and civilisations by convening Policy Seminars for the Ambassadors to the Court of St. James’s.”
Graduate Fog, an advice website which supports fair treatment of former students in the workplace, tipped off The Observer about the think tank’s treatment of interns after being approached by a former Civitatis junior associate.
Tanya de Grunwald, who runs Graduate Fog, condemned Civitatis’s “Junior Associate Training Course”,
saying: “Employing unpaid interns is bad enough, but charging them for a reference when they leave is appalling.
“We keep being assured that the graduate job market is picking up, but this case shows that there are still dark corners of it where unscrupulous employers find they can take advantage of young jobseekers’ desperation and naivety. This guy should be ashamed.”
Mortier, a former advisor to Liberal Democrat peer Lord Garden, responded to Graduate Fog and The Observer by having the think tank issue a comprehensive press statement.
In it, The Observer’s articles are called “inaccurate” and “distasteful”.
Civitatis states: “We would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that the Junior Associate Training Course was a highly respected training course and not an internship.”
It continues: “Although we do not have to justify the fees charged for that training course, the fees charged were always invested back in to the Junior Associate to include sponsored formal dinners, evening socials and attendance at high-level private conferences.
The fees for this three month course were far less than a one day project management training course.”
Referring to the whistleblower who brought the think tank to Graduate Fog and The Observer’s attention, Civitatis states: “We were aware of the person in 2010, who in late 2014, initiated these allegations and a campaign against us with cyber criminal organisations and can confirm that they did not pass the Junior Associate Training Course, nor were they ever charged for a reference.
“We believe the real issue here is why are so many young people in the United Kingdom considered unemployable by employers in comparison to other regions of the world.”
Graduate Fog criticised the statement for “[suggesting] that that many UK graduates are ‘unemployable’ without the help of paid-for training programmes” and concluded: “Graduate Fog thinks that Jan Mortier should stop ranting and just apologise. For everything. When […] 8,000 members of the public feel compelled to hit ‘Share’ on a story calling you out, even the most arrogant of bosses should consider whether perhaps it’s their judgement that’s bad, not everybody else’s.”