The Fair Internship Initiative (FII) advocates for internships at the United Nations that are of high quality and accessible to qualified young people from diverse backgrounds.
With constituencies in New York, Geneva and Vienna, the Fair Internship Initiative currently engages with Permanent Missions and the wider UN system to work towards better inclusion, recognition, and safeguarding of young people working for the UN.
The FII is a proud member of the Global Intern Coalition, a network of organizations aiming to improve workplace rights for interns worldwide.
On 20th February 2017, the UN day for Social Justice, young people across the world will come together to say NO to the exploitative and exclusionary practice of unpaid internships. Coordinated by the Global Intern Coalition, actions will take place in a range of cities, including Geneva, New York, and Vienna. We will demand that employers and leaders ensure quality internship opportunities that are accessible to all – regardless of their socioeconomic background.
Check out the global Facebook Event for details and share with your intern and youth networks!
21-22 November 2016, Geneva – Melanie and Matteo talked on behalf of the Fair Internship Initiative at the first session of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law on “Widening the Democratic Space: the role of youth in public decision-making” organized by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“Distinguished Co-Chairs, Dear Panelists,
We are from the Fair Internship Initiative, a youth-led international group advocating for accessible and quality internships in international organizations. We would like to thank the organizers and the panelists, especially Alexander for making an explicit mention of our initiative and our work.
We are the generation of student loans. We are the generation of youth unemployment. We are the generation of unpaid interns. None of us want to work for free, yet in order to start our career, most of us are obliged to take unpaid positions. We are told it is a privilege to work for institutions that do not value our contributions.
Unpaid internships foster inequality by offering unequal opportunities. For young people from underprivileged backgrounds and developing countries, living in the most expensive cities in the world without pay is simply not an option. The UN World Youth Report of 2016 mentions that, “unpaid internships have the potential to leave youth in and economically more vulnerable position”.
Regrettably, these practices are increasingly the norm, even within these very walls. Unpaid interns make up about 10 percent of the UN workforce, yet more than ⅔ of interns come from the developed West. As highlighted by the Joint Inspection Unit in 2009, many qualified candidates are unable to apply solely based on financial limitations. This is not what equal representation looks like. Participation is not just an abstract word. Participation requires tangible action.
The UN is an institution that champions the fundamental values of non-discrimination and equality, of democratic participation and equal representation, of fair working conditions and education for all. If the UN is committed to improving young people’s opportunities globally, regardless of the family they are born into or the country they come from, it must set the example. It has the duty to be part of the solution, not of the problem. It has to show that it is committed to young people at least as much as it asks young people to be committed to its goals.
We must ask, whether you believe the UN internship programme is consistent with the goals of SDGs 8 and 10, and with article 8 of the UN charter. We believe it is not.
We believe it is time for the member states and the secretariat alike to come together and finally listen to the voices of young people. It is time to commit to a real change to improve the accessibility of the UN internship programme.
This email was sent to Members States requesting them to call on the Secretary General to issue a report on the current internship policy. Sent October 2016.
Distinguished delegates to the Fifth Committee
The upcoming 71st United Nations General Assembly of the Fifth Committee consultations on agenda item 139, “Human Resources Management”, represents a historical opportunity for you to address the concern of thousands of young people around the world.
Interns represent a key component of the United Nations’ workforce; as figures in the most recent report of the Secretary-General on gratis personnel (A/71/360/Add.1) show, in 2014-15 there was a 10% increase in the number of unpaid interns compared to the previous biennium, amounting to a record-high 4,534 units in the Secretariat alone (compared to only a few hundred in the 1990s).
However, available official data show that the current unpaid internship policy fails to achieve a sufficiently diverse interns’ workforce, with developing countries being greatly underrepresented. At the same time, socio-economic diversity among current interns is also of concern: in the absence of official data, a survey carried out by the Fair Internship Initiative shows that only 29% of interns were able to secure at least some financial support from a sponsoring institution, while 76% would not have been able to do their internship if their family had not been able to provide some assistance.
As highlighted by the 2009 report of the Joint Inspection Unit on internships in the United Nations (JIU/NOTE/2009/2), the current policy not to provide any financial support to interns represents “a decisive factor” for otherwise highly-qualified young graduates not to participate in the programme, “simply because they could not afford to sustain themselves for such a period”. This equally affects both youth from developing countries, as well as an increasingly high number of graduates from developed economies, faced with rising levels of youth unemployment and mounting student debt.
By being accessible only to the few who can afford to live without any income in some of the most expensive cities in the world, unpaid internships foster inequalities among young people both between and within countries.
The lack of diversity among interns translates to the body of UN consultants and potentially impacts the pool of qualified candidates for UN staff positions. It is therefore important to ensure that access to the internship programme is granted on a fair, meritocratic and equal-opportunity basis.
Change is possible and examples of good practice exist. Some UN organizations (ILO, FAO, WFP, IFAD, UNOPS, WTO, WIPO, IAEA and others) already provide living stipends to interns. Policy coherence is needed across the UN to ensure that this becomes common practice.
The Fair Internship Initiative, on behalf of thousands of young people from all over the world and with the support of the Secretary General´s Envoy on Youth and dozens of youth organizations, kindly requests Member States to take action by requesting the Secretary-General to produce a report on this issue for consideration by the General Assembly. In our view, the report should:
Provide information on the demographics and conditions of service for interns in the Secretariat. No such report has previously been submitted by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly.
Provide possible options as of how a basic living allowance for interns who are unable to support themselves could be introduced and financed, including by reviewing the practices of other UN agencies and other large public sector organizations.
Propose a plan of affirmative action with concrete measures on how to increase the diversity of UN interns, by increasing the participation of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and from developing countries.
Propose a plan to increase the quality of internships including through the institutionalization of work plans that clearly define the goals, professional tasks and learning objectives of the internship, periodic reviews and guarantee of a minimum number of leave and sick days.
Consider providing interns with access a formal system of administration of justice (UNDT & UNAT).
We hope you will find our proposal reasonable and that you will be willing to support the voice of young people in this very important moment.
The linked background note provides further information and we stand ready for any questions you might have. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
The Fair Internship Initiative wishes to congratulate Mr. António Guterres for becoming the new United Nations Secretary-General! We count on him to do as he told us few months ago when asked about unpaid internships at the UN:
“I hope that there will be a consensus in the membership, namely the 5th committee, to look seriously into that and to create more opportunities to people from the global South […] I think this is essential for the effectiveness of the UN and the perception it has. I will be very much attentive to that“
Watch the full declaration of Mr. Guterres (question starts at 55’10):
On 31 December 2016 Ban Ki-moon is due to end his term in office, and the race for the new UN Secretary General has started. In a move to increase the transparency of the selection process, the UN has allowed for the first time to ask questions to the candidates during public hearings. In an age marked by high youth unemployment and rising inequalities, the UN will have to take the lead in the global effort to achieve the challenges enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals.
However, the new SG will have to come to terms with the UN’s own unpaid internship policy, which results in discrimination of disadvantaged youth and hinders diversity in the organization. We have asked the candidates about their position on the issue, and rated their response accordingly. Click the following link to find out more about their answers:
Advocacy with data is better advocacy! Thanks to our active collaboration with our partners and several intern boards of different organizations, we’re happy to announce the launch of the new 2016 World Interns’ Survey.
You can help by filling it out and sharing it among your current or former interns‘ friends – don’t worry, it’s anonymous!
Edit: the survey is now closed. Thank you to all participants. Results will be published soon, stay tuned! The data will be published by the end of summer and will help interns’ organizations across the world, including the Fair Internship Initiative, to support better and more accessible internships for all.