The report provides a comprehensive overview of the reality of UN internships, with special focus on  the impact of COVID-19.

On December 4, 2020, in the context of the celebrations for International Interns’ Day, the Fair Internship Initiative (FII) will present the latest independent report on UN internships (2019-2020). The report provides a comprehensive overview of the reality of UN internships, by analysing four key quality factors such as recruitment practices, quality of tasks, equal opportunities and supervision.

The report is the result of a wide survey conducted across different UN agencies worldwide, with more than 700 respondents. The results show that interns, within the UN, come from a handful of – mostly high-income – countries. In many instances, they remain unpaid and report an unsatisfactory internship experience. The prevalence of unpaid internships within the UN system does not adhere to the UN principles of equal opportunities  and non-discrimination, as  they are demonstrated to have adverse effects on geographical and socio-economic diversity in the UN system.

At the same time, it should be noted that some UN organisations have made important improvements after the survey was conducted. Between late 2019 and early 2020, several UN organizations (such as WHO, UNDP, UN Women, UNFPA and WIPO) reformed their internship programmes, introducing or increasing stipends for interns. These good practices show that, with the necessary political will and leadership, change is possible.

The report also includes an analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on UN internships. Based on a survey conducted in May 2020, the results show that interns were often left behind in figuring their legal status in a foreign country and in arranging their safe return home. Furthermore, the costs of transitioning into a work-from-home setting posed challenges to interns, many of whom were unpaid and found their internship experience greatly reduced in terms of educational value.

The report concludes with a series of key recommendations for United Nations organizations to ensure that their internship programmes are inclusive, of high quality and adapted to the special circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published by Fair Internship Initiative

The Fair Internship Initiative is a group of former, current UN interns and supporters advocating for quality and accessible internships in the UN system.


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