FII speaking at the UN Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law

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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.

It is time to start paying interns.

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