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Ending unpaid internships: at the UN and around the world.

Feb 20, 2024

Interns in Geneva hold protest against the United Nations unpaid policy.

In Geneva, Nairobi, and New York, U.N. interns mobilised on the occasion of the World Social Justice Day. Their demands: U.N. internships should be paid.

In March 2023, the U.N. General Assembly called upon the Secretariat to develop a new internship policy. In resolution 77/278, the Secretary-General is requested to present proposals for a support scheme to compensate interns for the duration of their internships.

PSI has been a strong supporter of the push for paid internships, through our engagement with the We Pay coalition, and our affilaites; the Staff Union of the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Staff Coordinating Council.


UN interns protest against unpaid policy

Thanks to activism by interns and engagement from unions, multiple UN agencies have improved policies and implemented paid programs including the WHO and the IOM.

The union movement, including EPSU and ETUC have recently supported a succesful campaign which resulted in the European parliament voting to ban unpaid internships across the EU. The campaign is currently awaiting an EU Commision directive.

"The message from Member States last year was clear: The current internship programme at the U.N. Secretariat cannot go on like this,” says Martin, a former U.N. intern and representative of the Fair Internship Initiative (FII).

He adds: “If the U.N. Secretary-General is truly serious about youth empowerment, he must propose stipends that will allow interns to cover their basic living expenses.”

Global Intern Strike - PSI Report

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The briefing discusses the role which PSI has played in pressuring the UN to pay their interns and reinstate entry level positions after it was revealed that the organisation employs over 2200 interns a year amounting to over a million hours of unpaid labour. While a change in policy at the UN would provide a strong symbol to employers world-wide, PSI is now expanding the scope of the campaign beyond the international sector to examine how interns are treated within government institutions and public services across the world.

DC3E09EC-4C80-4310-A0DD-DE9EF839329BCreated with sketchtool.

Unpaid internships reinforce persisting inequalities by selecting potential interns on the basis of their socio-economic status.

Accepting an unpaid internship is a privilege reserved to the few who can count on another source of income” says Baptiste, a member of the FII.

Analyses of the latest U.N. Secretariat report on internships show that close to half of U.N. interns come from Western countries, with a mere 10.5% representing African countries. As a consequence, lack of financial support reinforces disparities in intern and staff demographics at the U.N., which contradicts the organisation's commitment to fostering diversity, equal opportunities and equal pay for equal work.

By March 2025, the U.N. Secretary-General has to present his proposals on the internship reform. Until then, U.N. interns will continue to demand fair internships.

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