The Fifth Committee and the March campaign: what happened?

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UN Staff Council requested a report on how stipends could be introduced during the Fifth Committee. Human Resources items of the agenda were postponed to another resumed session to be held during the Fall of 2016

NEW YORK and GENEVA — April is here and the Fair Internship Initiative is closing the March campaign, which succeeded in raising awareness to the issue of unpaid internships at the United Nations System. The campaign included demonstrations in New York and Geneva and social media activities that reached more than 850,000 people. Several publications, such as Swiss “20 Minutes”, “Le Courrier” and “Swissinfo”, as well as the and Brazilian “Huffington Post Brasil” have reported about the campaign (read more).

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Protest in front of the Palais des Nations in Geneva

Why March?
The aim of the campaign was to get the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly, held in March in New York, to discuss the issue of unpaid internships — which could be addressed during a broader Human Resources agenda. However, Human Resources questions were postponed to yet another resumed session of the Fifth Committee to be held during the fall of 2016. According to Member States representatives of the Fifth Committee, most of the reports under consideration for this item are over a year old and out of date.

The latest report produced by the Secretariat with data on internships has been published in 2014 regarding the biennium of 2012-2013. This report has a broader focus on the category of gratis personnel, retired staff and consultants and individual contractors (read more).

The issue of unpaid internships at the UN has not been ignored, however. During an opening session of the Fifth Committee, the UN Staff Council representative Mr Ian Richards invited the the Secretariat to produce a report with non-binding solutions for Member States to consider how a stipend for interns could be introduced, based on the practice of specialized agencies like the International Labour Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme.

What’s next?
The Fair Internship Initiative will keep on working to ensure that the issue of unpaid internships is addressed during the next resumed session of the Fifth Committee. Meeting with Member States’ representatives in Geneva and New York, working with intern boards based in both cities and campaigning online and offline to raise awareness on this issue are some of the strategies for the upcoming months. The initiative also plans to carry out a new UN-wide interns’ survey, as in 2015, in order to collect reliable data on interns and their living conditions.

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