Charity that employs Carrie Johnson hires unpaid interns to do ‘heavy lifting’ for a YEAR


The Aspinall Foundation warned would-be gorilla and tapir keepers they need “good fitness” for “physically demanding” work at its two animal parks – which could last up to 12 months

Carrie Johnson is the charity's director of communications
Carrie Johnson is the charity’s director of communications

The animal charity where Carrie Johnson has a top job is hiring unpaid interns to do “heavy lifting” for up to a YEAR.

The Aspinall Foundation warned would-be gorilla and tapir keepers they need “good fitness” for “physically demanding” work at its two animal parks.

The Mirror has seen job adverts for three internships that were posted earlier this year, each offering between three and five days per week for between four and 12 months.

They stated applicants would get no salary, housing or travel costs – despite weekend tickets for a family of four at Port Lympne, Kent, costing £84.

Would-be interns were offered uniforms and a “discount” at park food outlets, but told: “No other financial benefits are offered.

“Candidates will need to have the ability to financially support themselves for the entire length of the internship.”

A Tory MP branded the arrangement “immoral” and urged Boris Johnson to ban long unpaid internships – something the PM appeared to pledge years ago.

Aspinall Foundation boss Damian Aspinall during a 2012 visit by Prince William


AFP/Getty Images)

The three roles were advertised well before the birth of Ms Johnson’s second child. Reports have claimed she was not planning to take maternity leave.

It came as the Aspinall Foundation, where the PM’s wife was made Director of Communications in January, has been undergoing a legal inquiry into its finances.

The Charity Commission launched an investigation in March into “serious concerns about the charity’s governance and financial management”.

It later emerged Victoria Aspinall, the wife of the charity’s millionaire socialite chairman Damian, was paid £150,158 last year for “interior design services”.

The charity claimed the “arm’s length” fees were “subject to a rigorous benchmarking exercise to ensure the foundation received value for money”.

A Tory MP urged Boris Johnson (right) to act


AFP via Getty Images)

The charity has other links to the Tory government – with Ben Goldsmith, the brother of Environment minister Zac, sitting as one of its trustees. Ben Goldsmith is also a non-executive director at his brother’s government department.

Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke said Boris Johnson must act to show he is serious about “levelling-up”.

The backbencher, who has pushed for eight years to ban long unpaid internships, said: “It’s a campaign that I continue to want to see resolved.

“The Prime Minister has a big levelling-up agenda.

“And I would hope he would eventually find the legislative vehicle to support the banning of unpaid internships, which – as this example shows – precludes people who don’t have independent financial means.”

In his first week in No10, Mr Johnson claimed he “absolutely endorsed” Mr Shelbrooke’s campaign and the MP was “entirely right”.

The PM said in 2019: “We should be a meritocracy and people should be able to access jobs not according to who they know, but according to their talents.”

Since then business minister Paul Scully has insisted “it is wrong to exploit workers through unpaid work experience, including internships”.

But no legal ban has yet been brought forward, to the anger of campaigners.

Ben Goldsmith, brother of Tory peer Zac Goldsmith, is a trustee of the Aspinall Foundation


Getty Images)

The Aspinall Foundation’s job adverts claimed it cannot pay interns because it is “funded entirely by visitor fees and donations”.

But its 2020 accounts showed it had 19 paid staff, with the highest earner raking in more than £80,000 a year. Trustees were not paid.

Mr Shelbrooke said: “In my opinion there isn’t an organisation in the world that can justify not paying someone after four weeks.

“Unpaid internships are immoral and at the very minimum people should be paid minimum wage.

“Because after four weeks it moves beyond experience and you are clearly adding value to that organisation.”

The three adverts the Mirror saw were for a ‘hoofstock keeper internship’, a ‘gorilla keeper internship’ and an ‘African experience internship’.

All three adverts explicitly warned applicants they would receive no pay and almost no expenses.

All three also warned applicants to have a good level of fitness for heavy lifting.

One stated: “Candidates need to have a good level of fitness and will be happy with heavy lifting as this position can be physically demanding.”

The charity had £1.95m of donor income and £2.2m of available reserves last year – though it took a £2m Covid loan to help stay afloat.

It is not known how much Carrie Johnson is paid for her role as communications director at the Aspinall Foundation.

In 2017, the ex-Tory communications chief said her passion for animal rights was sparked by an internship at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The Aspinall Foundation did not return repeated requests for comment.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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