Firms back social mobility rules
Nick Clegg has renewed his pledge to end Britain's "who you know" culture and revealed that more than 100 companies have signed up to social mobility rules.
Supermarkets, banks, law firms and energy providers have committed to advertise work experience places openly rather than handing them out through contacts.
The issue has previously proved a source of tension in the coalition, with Prime Minister David Cameron openly contradicting the views of his Liberal Democrat deputy.
Last April Mr Cameron insisted he was "very relaxed" about giving work experience to personal acquaintances, such as a neighbour who interned at his constituency office.
Mr Clegg shot back: "I'm not relaxed about this at all."
On Thursday Mr Clegg announced that Barclays, HSBC and Santander, plus retailers Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons, had signed up to his initiative. Other well-known participants include Coca Cola, Nestle, law firm Allen and Overy, and energy giants BP, Shell and E.ON.
The companies, which together employ more than two million people in Britain and have a turnover of more than £500 billion, have agreed to advertise work experience places in schools, online and in other public forums, rather than just distributing opportunities via informal contacts.
They have also pledged to make internships "open and transparent" and recruit fairly, using application forms that do not allow candidates to be screened out because they went to the wrong school or come from a different ethnic group.
Mr Clegg said: "This is an important step towards a society where it's what you know, not who you know, that counts. Working with the coalition, the biggest hitters in British business are helping lead the way to a fairer, more open society.
"By opening their doors to young people from all walks of life, this marks the start of a culture shift among major employers, driven by the belief that ability and drive should trump connections and privilege."