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.
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:
GENEVA — On April 18th, the FII-Geneva joined the organization Interns with a mission to discuss youth empowerment through the Sustainable Development Goals at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva. The issue of unpaid internships was raised by the FII-Geneva in the form of a question directed at Ms. Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Center (ITC). Over 200 interns present welcomed the question with a round of applause. Ms. González showed sympathy to the cause by saying she herself has been an intern. ITC’s Executive Director said she plans to bring the issue to member states and, in the meantime, hopes to increase opportunities to young professionals by increasing the number of vacancies through the Junior Professional Officers (JPO) Programme.
Interns with a Mission proposed a motion: The current SDG framework provides enough opportunities for youth involvement and empowerment. Four panelists were invited to debate this motion: Ms. Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Center (ITC); Ms. Lyne Calder, from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs; Mr. Paul Ladd, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD); and Ms. Malika Dreyfuss, Training Programme Coordinator at Euforia. Most of the interns present voted against the motion: 192 voted “NO” and only 62 voted “YES”.
Read our complete coverage of the event on social media here.
The Fair Internship Initiative will collaborate with the charter offering insight into best practices for internships policies and programmes
GENEVA — Non-governmental organizations in Geneva recently launched a charter called We Pay Our Interns in response to the growing awareness to unpaid, unregulated internship practices common to international organizations and to the private sector. Signatories of the charter vow to pay a minimum financial aid equivalent to CHF 500 for full-time internships — this financial aid can include “in-kind contributions, such as food, accommodation, transportation or any other means of support”. Twenty-nine NGOs have signed up to the charter, including Save the Children, World YMCA, Peace Watch Switzerland, Care International, Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) and Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
The charter refers to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity”. It aims to draw attention to the issue of unpaid internships, alerting to the fact that while this sector values equality and justice improvement it does not comply with its own values by recruiting unpaid interns.
The Fair Internship Initiative – Geneva welcomes We Pay Our Interns charter as an important player to our mission. It shows that NGOs have recognised the practice of unpaid internships rules out people from low-income backgrounds. With limited budget and resources, especially in comparison to the UN’s multi-billion budget, NGOs are an example to other international actors who resist in rethinking their internship policies. The FII–Geneva also stresses that living costs in Geneva amount to CHF 1800-CHF 2200 per month and therefore encourages NGOs to consider increasing this financial aid to at least add up to this standard, as recommended in the We Pay Our Interns charter.
The FII–Geneva will establish a collaboration with We Pay Our Interns charter, offering insight into best practices for internships and discussing the expansion of the charter to include international governmental organizations, which are the main focus of the Fair Internship Initiative in Geneva, New York, and in other cities where it has established its presence.
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).
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.
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.