The Pay Your Interns campaign, led by graduate advice site Graduate Fog, will draw attention to large companies that take advantage of graduates' desperation to gain experience by hiring them as interns and not paying them properly.
Graduate Fog claims that it is a myth that unpaid internships lead to paid, permanent roles. Instead, it argues, internships are increasingly replacing these permanent positions.
As part of the campaign, Graduate Fog will send an email to the press office of each of the companies listed on the site as using unpaid interns, asking them to clarify their policy on internships. Any that do not pay their interns - and whose interns appear do be doing proper work for them - will be asked to explain how this complies with the national minimum wage law.
Tanya de Grunwald, founder of Graduate Fog, said: "Unpaid internships are the big issue for graduates entering the job market in 2011. A practice that appears to be harmless - helpful, even - has turned out to be extremely damaging. In turning a blind eye to this issue, the UK's politicians have effectively sanctioned the exploitation of tens of thousands of young people who can (just about) afford to work for nothing - while their less well off friends are left on the sidelines, unable to get their careers started."
Meanwhile, industry organisations back the need for fairness. Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), told Personnel Today that the CIPD encourages employers to pay interns the national minimum wage as a minimum standard.
According to the CIPD 2010 learning and talent development survey, 63% of employers pay their interns at least the minimum wage, with 92% of this group paying their interns over and above this level out of choice.
Willmott added: "It is also important to remember that the debate about the use of internships is not just about pay but also about quality and ensuring that interns are selected, supervised and supported effectively to boost their employability and career prospects."