Why The UN Doesn’t Pay Its Interns

UN in GenevaTHE story of an unpaid intern living in a tent in Geneva did not make the United Nations look good. David Hyde, a fresh-faced 22-year-old from New Zealand, said he set up camp on the banks of Lake Geneva because he could not afford the Swiss city’s exorbitant rents while working for free.

The news stirred up public outrage as well as sympathy from Mr Hyde’s colleagues: scores of UN interns in Geneva walked off the job on August 14th to protest against his plight.

That same day a cluster of “interns’ rights” groups penned an open letter to the UN’s secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, pointing out that the practice of not paying interns sits awkwardly with Article 23 of the organisation’s own Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity”). So why doesn’t the UN pay its interns?

The UN says that it would like to pay interns, but claims its hands are tied by a resolution passed in 1997 that forbids the payment of non-staff. Yet unpaid internships existed for decades before: a senior UN adviser recalls completing one in 1970 in New York.

The resolution in fact simply acknowledged an old, ad hoc practice. But since the resolution, the UN’s yearly intern intake has ballooned from 131 in 1996 to 4,018 in 2014.

UN departments, unable to expand budgets and recruit staff, increasingly turn to a revolving door of young graduates willing to work for free, for two to six months at a stretch.

Though interns may protest, they clearly see value in the connections, experience and sense of purpose that UN internships provide, not to mention having its brand on their CVs.

If it wanted to pay its interns, the UN would struggle to find the money to do so. Paying 4,000 of them would cost up to €13m ($14.5m) per year, yet the UN has been cutting staff owing to budget shortfalls.

The fact that America owes $1.3 billion in unpaid dues hardly helps. Internal resistance from clerical UN staff and their unions is another problem.

They fear that paid internships may become a back door for recruitment and increase competition for coveted low-level “professional” positions.

Others worry that a system of paid internships would be susceptible to nepotism: interns go through a much less rigorous—and less transparent—hiring process than that for official staff, which is governed by the UN Charter. Another barrier to paying interns is a larger matter regarding the geographical make-up of UN staff.

The states that belong to the UN want to increase their influence by maximising their own citizens’ presence among staff and vetoing measures that reduce it.

Many developing countries see paying interns who are disproportionately from the wealthiest countries as perpetuating injustice rather than correcting it (developed countries accounted for 61% of UN interns in 2007, despite having just 15% of the world’s population).

To fix that they may propose a geographical quota system for interns, which developed countries would oppose.

The UN may benefit from a policy of not paying interns, but it also suffers. Senior managers privately grumble about missing out on top young talent, who accept paid offers elsewhere or cannot afford to live unpaid in swanky cities like Geneva and New York.

The interns who can afford it, chiefly the affluent and metropolitan locals, collectively bear little resemblance to the sort of workplace diversity the UN strives to achieve.

Back in Geneva, Mr Hyde has since packed up his tent and resigned, admitting the whole affair was a stunt to draw attention to the plight of unpaid workers.

Those at the UN who push for change in his absence can take solace in the knowledge that the International Labour Organisation, a related body, began paying its interns a decade ago after one was discovered living in the office basement.

Others looking for paid work should note that there are plenty of organisations out there (including The Economist) that offer interns a decent wage.United Nations

Please follow and like us:
Source: The Economist

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » appearance » Widgets » and move a widget into Advertise Widget Zone