Letter to DG da Silva of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Dear Director-General da Silva, (Dear Mr Demachkie,)


Subject: Review of the FAO internship and volunteers programme

It has been brought to the attention of the undersigning organizations that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is currently undertaking a revision of its Internship and Volunteering programmes.

FAO has been, so far, an example of good practices in the UN system, proving to be true to the UN core values of non-discrimination and promotion of diversity, as well as the empowerment of youth, especially from developing countries. Up to now FAO has done this not only in words but with tangible measures, most importantly by introducing a basic financial support to its interns, which has made the organization’s internship programme accessible to all, irrespective of their geographic, social or economic backgrounds.

We believe that the current revision provides an opportunity for FAO to further increase the quality of offers under its Internship Programme. This would entail first and foremost strengthening the educational value of internship placements, helping young people to develop practical skills to complement their theoretical knowledge, under the guidance of a competent supervisor. Furthermore, a quality internship programme should ensure that interns are entitled to and well informed of their social and labour rights and provided with adequate financial support to cover their basic living expenses.

Therefore, we call on FAO both to ensure that young people taking part in the revised internship programme continue to receive an adequate living allowance – a key factor in tackling inequalities and guaranteeing equal opportunities for all regardless of their socio-economic or geographic background; and, more broadly, to recognise, protect and uphold their social and labour rights.

It is on this basis that an internship can represent a mutually beneficial experience for both the intern and the host organization.

According to the official communication by FAO, the stated aim of this review has been “to link the internship and volunteering programmes more systematically to the enhancement of FAO’s technical capacity and to deliver on its Strategic Objectives and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” We welcome the intention to align the internship programme with the SDGs, as we strongly believe that poor quality, unpaid internships, jeopardize the implementation of the SDGs, and, more specifically, of Goals 10 (Reduced inequalities) and 8 (Decent work and economic growth), which require among their targets:

  • The promotion of social, economic and political inclusion irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status (target 10.2);
  • Equal opportunity and the reduction of inequalities of outcome, including the elimination of discriminatory laws, policies and practices and the promotion of appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard (target 10.3);
  • The adoption of policies, especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies to progressively achieve greater equality (target 10.4);
  • Enhanced representation and voice for developing countries in decision-making in global international economic and financial institutions in order to deliver more effective, credible, accountable and legitimate institutions (target 10.6).
  • Decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value (target 8.5).

We also recall that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development represents a coherent and holistic approach, whereby no Goal is to be compromised for the achievement of another.

It is of paramount importance that, within the current review of its internship programme, FAO does not retreat from the progressive path it has so far undertaken, but rather proceeds along it, taking into account good practices from other UN agencies and other international organizations (such as the ILO, IOM, UNOPS, WTO, WIPO, IAEA, CTBTO, OSCE, and others). This would, moreover, be consistent with the growing consensus that change is required to make UN internship programmes truly inclusive and accessible. Recognizing this principle, UNICEF has, for instance, recently revised its internship policy, introducing paid internships, while UNHCR is in the process of doing so.

Providing interns with sufficient financial assistance to cover basic travel, board and lodging is a fundamental enabler for youth from low-income backgrounds and from the Global South to afford the opportunity to contribute to the work of FAO. Failure to do so would result in an unfair, discriminatory and elitist internship programme.

Dear Director-General da Silva,

As a renowned advocate of social justice, you have in many occasions expressed – both

through words and actions – your firm support for the economic and social empowerment of the beneficiaries of developmental policies. We warmly suggest you to lead by example, take a step forward and adopt an internship policy in line with the UN system’s best practices, some of which you can find attached to this letter, for your reference.


In conclusion, we urge you to support young people, particularly the less privileged

youth that the UN system should strive to empower, and to uphold the Sustainable Development Goals. We call on you to take engage with the interns’ community, in the framework of the upcoming review of the FAO’s internship policy, in order to ensure that it takes into consideration best practices and it has young people’s interests at its core.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.


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On behalf of:
Fair Internship Initiative
European Youth Forum
Repubblica degli Stagisti
Geneva Interns Association
Canadian Interns Association
Brussels Interns NGO
Other supporting organizations:
Graduate Institute Student Association (GISA)
ILO Intern Board
WHO Intern Board
OCHA Intern Board
International Environment House Intern Board
OHCHR Interns’ committee

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