Rutgers University

How an Online Rutgers Forum Took Down a Pay-to-Work Employer

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This screenshot captures a portion of Focus on China's website, which describes its internship programs. The site includes a section that instructs interns how to send money to secure the job.
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Online activism sometimes gets a shoddy reputation.

But internet-driven campaigns can produce results. Members of an online community dedicated to Rutgers, a section of Reddit called /r/Rutgers, proved as much this week.

After a couple of warnings—peppered with a healthy dose of gripes—regarding an employer that advertises on campus appeared on the forum, Rutgers Career Services cut ties with Focus on China. The university took action when it found that the company, which lures students in with the promise of an internship abroad, requires people to pay for the position.

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A suggestion from an online user prompted the department to look into the company and its pay-to-work policy.

“For this reason, ‘Focus on China’ has been removed from the CareerKnight platform,” Melissa Blake, a spokesperson for career services, wrote yesterday, referencing the school’s online job board.

The Beijing, China-based company couldn’t be reached for comment via phone or email by TAPinto New Brunswick.

An /r/Rutgers user set the wheels in motion last week, through a post highlighting an April 25 Vector Marketing networking and information session that was promoted through Career Services.

That kicked off a swell of comments against Vector, which retains independent contractors to sell Cutco knives directly to customers. Some users claimed the company is a “pyramid scheme” or a “multi-level marketing” group—two labels a public relations manager for Vector Marketing firmly rejected on the grounds that salespeople don’t draw others to work for the group.

In the online post and a follow-up, members of the Rutgers community bashed Vector for allegedly inflating how much money students can earn by selling knives and requiring them to buy a sample kit to work. A few contributors, meanwhile, defended the company.

“We need to stand up for ourselves and our peers by showing that we will not tolerate predatory companies,” a user with the handle doublefudgebrownie47 wrote.

Joel Koncinsky, a Vector spokesperson, told TAPinto New Brunswick that the company loans sample sets to salespeople free of charge. Should an individual decide to part ways with Vector, that person simply needs to return the product to avoid paying for it, Koncinsky said.

That shift prompted Rutgers Career Services to continue to allow Vector access to students through job postings and information sessions.

“A few years ago, Vector was banned from recruiting at some college campuses because they required students to pay for products and sell them,” Blake wrote. “Partly based on feedback from universities, Vector changed their practices in 2011, which now makes them eligible to recruit on college campuses like ours.”

Reddit user doublefudgebrownie47/Imgur

That same year, Vector settled class-action lawsuits alleging it didn’t pay minimum wage and “improperly” required sales reps to buy sample kits. The company agreed to pay out $13 million.

Since Vector salespeople are independent contractors, they don’t get paid while undergoing training, Koncinsky said.

“We provide good training skills that will help them for this job and the next,” he added.

Even so, forum users were skeptical of the hourly rates advertised by Vector on campus. They said figures hovering around $20 per hour were misleading because they only apply to top sellers.

In his rebuttal, Koncinsky said Vector provides base pay to contractors. The figure varies by branch—it’s $18 per appointment near Rutgers—but the company paid $4.2 million to representatives with no sales under their belt in 2016, he said.

The original online /r/Rutgers posts appears to have been designed to warn other students of the company.

While those who hoped for Vector to get the boot were left unsatisfied, the outcry did spur consequences for Focus on China, the company that mandates upfront payment from would-be interns.

That’s a win for Rutgers Career Services. The department’s employer relations team reviews more than 16,000 job postings on CareerKnight each year, Blake wrote, which means they can use a hand in identifying hucksters and scams.

“We encourage students to help [us] monitor for potential fraudulent employers,” she added. “The issue of fraudulent employers recruiting on college campuses is a concern across the country.”

Rutgers prefers students to report possible scammers via email to recruiting@echo.rutgers.edu.

But, if only this time, an online group dedicated to Rutgers and with fewer than 7,500 members got the job done. What did that feel like?

“Justice,” a user called wears_a_hoodie wrote.

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