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Banning unpaid internships in Belgium

In May 2017, the European Youth Forum took our mission to ban unpaid internships a step further, by lodging a Collective Complaint against Belgium.

As a result, the European Committee of Social Rights determined that gaps in Belgium’s legislation allow young people to be exploited as free labour through unpaid internships.


This is a significant decision that could change the game for young people... but what happens now?

The Youth Forum's Collective Complaint on Unpaid Internships

Where we started

Unpaid internships are a source of social exclusion and discrimination.

In 2017, the European Youth Forum decided to take legal action to change the reality for young people.

To do this, we lodged a Collective Complaint against Belgium, to bring the issue to the attention of the European Committee of Social Rights.

Through lodging a Complaint, we want to challenge and ultimately change Belgian legislation, seeking a legal decision that will set a precedent across Europe and beyond to make this unfair and discriminatory practice illegal.

The final decision

After more than 4 years, the European Committee of Social Rights announced its ruling on the Collective Complaint against Belgium on the issue of unpaid internships.

The ruling found that current labour inspection systems in Belgium fail to offer enough protection to vulnerable and disadvantaged young interns.

The Committee also upholds the Complaint’s argument that by limiting opportunities to young people from more advantaged backgrounds, unpaid internships are entrenching inequality.

Vice President of the European Youth Forum, Frédéric Piccavet said:

“Unpaid internships are an exploitative practice, which have no benefit to business, society, and certainly not for young people. This decision should signal the end of unpaid internships not just in Belgium, but across Europe.
The European Youth Forum is committed to fight for the right of all young people, regardless of their socioeconomic background, to have equal access to fair, paid jobs.”

Breaking it down...

How does the process work? Here are the core pieces of the puzzle you should know about:

What is the European Social Charter?



The ‘Charter’ is a Council of Europe treaty that guarantees everyday social and economic human rights. The Charter covers rights related to employment, housing, health, education, social protection and welfare.

We based our Collective Complaint on the following articles:

Article 7.5 - The right of children and young persons to protection

Article 4.1 - The right to a fair remuneration

Article 4.1 in conjunction with Article E - Non discrimination

How is the European Social Charter monitored?

The implementation of the Charter is monitored by the European Committee of Social Rights. They use 2 monitoring mechanisms: reporting and collective complaints.

How does a Collective Complaint work?

Collective Complaints are a way of identifying when States have failed to uphold human rights set out in the Charter.

The Complaint must include evidence and relevant arguments, with supporting documents. Once a complaint is lodged it normally takes around 18 months for a decision to be made.

Is the outcome of the Collective Complaint legally binding?

When a State has signed up to the European Social Charter, it must respect any decisions and conclusions that come from the outcome of a Collective Complaint.

While the outcome is not directly enforceable in domestic legal systems, the State does have to provide information on what measures it has taken to meet the requirements of the Social Charter.

Why did the Youth Forum choose Belgium?

At the time of the Collective Complaint's submission, Belgium has been estimated to be the Member State with the highest rate of unpaid internships in the EU, with only 1 in 5 (18%) being paid for work (Eurobarometer survey, 2015).

However, Belgium is not the only European country to have a problem with high numbers of unpaid internships. We hope that the decision in the Belgian case has the potential to transform the working conditions for interns, not only in Belgium but also in all other Member States of the Council of Europe.

The European Youth Forum stands for the right of all young people to be treated fairly in the workplace!

Find out more below on what else we're doing to protect the social and economic rights of young people.

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