A social media campaign asking for fair paid UN internships

Marianna Lepore

Marianna Lepore

Scritto il 29 Feb 2016 in International

Fair internship initiative internship ONU pay your interns

Unpaid interns forced to bear high costs in expensive cities: it’s a worldwide problem, not only an Italian one, as this webmagazine – Repubblica degli Stagisti – has already written many times. It happens in very prestigious offices, too, as the UN buildings. This is why UN trainees have been protesting for many years asking for fair paid internships.

Repubblica degli Stagisti has always supported this battle: years ago we wrote about the list of international organizations that do not pay interns; two years ago we raised the case of free internships in the UNHCR Rome office. Last summer, we closely followed the case of the intern living in a tent in Geneva, who was doing an unpaid internship at the UN. And thanks to years of articles and campaigns asking for paid internships at embassies and consulates around the world, we have succeeded in celebrating, In Italy, the introduction of a minimum refund for Mae-CRUI internships.

These are all examples showing the support of Repubblica degli Stagisti to the UN trainees protest. Despite the demonstrations and the support they have received, UN interns weren’t able to get any results. This is why the Fair internship initiative (a group of current and former United Nations interns advocating for higher quality and fairly remunerated internships within the United Nations System) has created a social media campaign which will see its maximum effect Tuesday March 1st.

«We are having an important event in New York on February 29th, the UN’s Fifth Committee. They will discuss and decide budgetary and administrative issues, and also recommend measures to their specialized agencies. This is our best chance so far to get concrete changes in the UN's internship policy since the Fair Internship Initiative first started nearly a year ago», says Fernanda Dutra, who curated the media campaign, to Repubblica degli Stagisti. «We thought it was time to show the UN that not only interns in Geneva or in New York care about this issue. Nothing better than a social media campaign in this case, in which hundreds of people can show their support to the cause by following closely this topic, asking for a change».

Support does not seem to be missing. Already more than 320 people have decided to share the message on Thunderclap: "#ZeroDiscrimination also means equal opportunities at the UN. I support Fair Internship Initiative #UNpaidIsUNfair ".

«The purpose of the social media campaign is to raise awareness on this issue» Fernanda Dutra explains: «In this sense, I believe we have already achieved this goal. With the support received on Thunderclap we got a social reach of nearly 700 thousand people, without paying a single cent to promote this campaign».

It’s easy to join the movement: anyone can register on Thunderclap with his Facebook or Twitter account, and support the message. On March 1st, the platform «will blast out this message from everyone’s account at the same time, creating a wave of attention».

But there is more: there is a web page, named "Our Stories", where anyone can learn a little more about the conditions experienced by these interns, mostly in expensive cities like Geneva and New York. And reading the story of Kara, that after so many sacrifices endured by her family after the economic crisis of 9/11, started a master in Geneva thanks to a US government loan. But in the swiss city she was able to find only unpaid internships. She landed an unpaid UN internship, and after months of double jobs, she ended coming back home to the States, no longer able to afford an unpaid internships.

This is only one of many interns’ stories in the United Nations buildings. These young people are subject to very expensive costs: «According to the World Health Organization, interns are able to live in Geneva with about 1800-2000 Swiss Francs» says Fernanda to Repubblica degli stagisti. But what the organization identifies as «average cost» in reality «is below the poverty line which in Geneva is 2200 Swiss Francs».

This is why the Fair Internship Initiative was born: to give voice and resonance to the condition experienced by too many interns. And for the same reason they decided to launch this media campaign. «The UN’s Fifth Committee is the only one that can change the internships policy», says Matteo De Simone, of "Fair internship initiative Geneva", to Repubblica degli Stagisti. «That’s why we ask for support to all: FII in New York met with more than thirty delegations and we are in contact with the Presidency of the Staff Union and with the UN Youth Envoy. But until today, France was the only member State which has officially supported this battle» thanks to movement Génération Précaire: «The other member states support us unofficially, pressing the UN to better use the existing funds - the UN budget is around 42 billion dollars.
(This is the total expeditur for a given year, while as staff costs, general service and professional categories  it was almost 5 billion dollars in 2013) They believe there is a chance to establish an interns’ scholarship».

This fact could radically change the lives of many interns, but until today it has not received the support of the Secretariat, convinced that «States are to establish a new budget line to be added to the existing contributions».

The Fair Internship Initiative is carried out without public support: Ahmad Alhendawi, 31,
the United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth only said that «the policy of the United Nations internship should change» and that «we should try to draw more people from the South of the world». A neutral position probably due to the fact that many interns in this office are unpaid.

While the web is getting ready to explode on March 1st, with hundreds of messages in favor of paid internships, there will also be live protests. In Geneva there will be a symbolic camping in Place des Nations in front of the UN, while in New York young people will be moving around with hiking backpacks distributing informational materials.

The message they want to send is clear: to adjust the working conditions of the younger workers to the values that the United Nations represents. And when we say “younger unpaid workers” we refer to more than four thousand people, according to the report published by the UN. In fact, this number refers to 2012-13 and is out of date, the more recent report is yet to be published. The United Nations data show that 3900 out of these 4500 unpaid people were interns, the vast majority women.

And what is more alarming is these numbers do not take into account the trainees in specialized agencies such as UNESCO, FAO, ILO. The real number of unpaid interns is probably higher.

This is why it is time to act, to be heard and to go on with the protest Repubblica degli stagisti has been supporting for many years: internships must always have a refund, because work must always be paid for. Otherwise we end up leaving out of this opportunity hundreds of qualified young people without a rich family that can support them. And, probably, only few people will have the chance to start a brilliant career.


Italian text here