The Economist explains: Why the UN doesn’t pay its interns

by / Thursday, 20 August 2015 / Published in Economy

THE 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. 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. …
Source: The Economy