You might have been reading this week about a collective of young people who are taking legal action against the charity marketing agency Appco for allegedly forcing them to participate in “humiliating rituals”, workplace bullying and underpayment. I certainly have, and it made me laugh.
It wasn’t a happy chuckle, it was a one part sadness, one part incredulity that anyone was surprised by this.
I worked for a charity marketing firm when I first moved to Sydney 13 years ago. It was not Appco and I’m not going to go splashing the name around here because I’m worried I could get sued myself. I will say, it is still in operation today. Like a lot of young people I didn’t have enough work experience elsewhere to secure a regular job – these agencies prey on that vulnerability to attract unqualified, desperate kids into what is essentially unpaid work.
For one week they paid me $90 a day for an 8-10 hour shift, standing on the street in some random location – I had to pay to get myself there. The minimum wage at the time was $11.80. I was routinely sexually harassed by members of the public and encouraged by the company to target vulnerable, underprivileged people, students and the elderly. Apparently people with less typically give more.
Sales meetings were full of chanting and lots of backslapping for good performers – it was a very cult-like atmosphere.
After that first week I was told I would have to go on a “commission only” contract from then on: I would only earn money if I signed people up and those people maintained their memberships past a particular expiration date.
I was facing the possibility of working 10 hour days for no money at all.
My experience was typical of the broader industry at the time.
I have a friend who was also inducted into another of these agencies for similar reasons as myself but a couple of years later than me. She was told “no sales, no money” from day one. If “team leaders” noticed she seemed lower energy than expected or the constant public abuse was getting to her, she would be reported and forced to attend a shame meeting with the “big boss”. If you tried to quit you were publicly shamed. People came up with bizarre excuses why they had to stop working there just to get out the door.
The company she worked for – again, not Appco and not the same company as me – used to intentionally send her to the poorest areas around Sydney to try and sign up people on welfare payments.
This has been happening for at least 13 years and to try and argue these companies aren’t 100 percent aware of their own day-to-day operating practices is absolutely absurd. In my opinion and personal experience, their strategies are fundamentally predatory both towards their employees and the people they seek to sign up for charity donations.