Interns debate at the UN: Empowering youth through Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

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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.


NGOs in Geneva launch We Pay Our Interns charter

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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).

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 10.53.28The 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.

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).


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.

UN Internships in a nutshell

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Key facts on UN internships FINAL_1

UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi is special guest at event organized by FII

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Read the article on the Youth Envoy website.

NEW YORK, 9 March 2016  – The Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, joined a brownbag event organized by the Fair Internship Initiative at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 4 March, 2016. The event, which was attended by around 30 interns, included a presentation of the Fair Internship Initiative and a fruitful discussion on the need for fairer internships at the UN.

Talking about the initiative, Alhendawi commended the efforts carried by the initiative and noted the dedication and commitment of individuals behind this campaign aimed at advocating to improve the UN internship programme to make it accessible and affordable to young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Alhendawi also highlighted the importance of empowering young people to stand up for what they believe is fair and just.

We thank Mr. Alhendawi for meeting us and sharing his knowledge. We look forward to further collaboration with him to encourage member states to discuss the status of internships in the UN’s fifth committee.




Ian Richards asks for fairer internships at the UN 5th Committee

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NEW YORK 4 March 2016 – Hopeful news from the 5th Committee of the UN General Assembly: Ian Richards from the UN Staff Council has asked the Secretary-General for a report on how interns could be provided stipends.

Ian Richards: “Unpaid internships filter out young people from developing countries and underprivileged backgrounds. At the same time UN staff are uncomfortable asking interns to work for free, against international labor standards. We propose that the sector general prepare reports on how interns could be provided stipends taking into account practices from specialized agencies.”

We are very happy with his encouragement towards member states and hope it will be picked up in a constructive way.

Interns CAMPaign at the Secretariat

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In reference to the stories of Robert and David, interns CAMPaigned at the UN today to raise awareness of the fact that the UN should change its internship policies in order to make them of higher quality, provide more security for interns, and to make them more accessible to qualified youth from all socio-economic backgrounds.

FII New York campaigned in front of the secretariat with backpacks and camping gear and made use of “elevator pitch ambassadors” in the UN elevators, to familiarize UN staff with the issue.

“It’s not for us. It’s for those who couldn’t afford it!”