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

Call for Action from Delegates to the 5th Committee

[2016 October ] This email was sent to Members States requesting them to call on the Secretary General to issue a report on the current internship policy during the Fifth Committee. 

Distinguished delegates to the Fifth Committee

The upcoming 71st United Nations General Assembly of the Fifth Committee consultations on agenda item 139, “Human Resources Management”, represents a historical opportunity for you to address the concern of thousands of young people around the world.

Interns represent a key component of the United Nations’ workforce; as figures in the most recent report of the Secretary-General on gratis personnel (A/71/360/Add.1) show, in 2014-15 there was a 10% increase in the number of unpaid interns compared to the previous biennium, amounting to a record-high 4,534 units in the Secretariat alone (compared to only a few hundred in the 1990s).

However, available official data show that the current unpaid internship policy fails to achieve a sufficiently diverse interns’ workforce, with developing countries being greatly underrepresented. At the same time, socio-economic diversity among current interns is also of concern: in the absence of official data, a survey carried out by the Fair Internship Initiative shows that only 29% of interns were able to secure at least some financial support from a sponsoring institution, while 76% would not have been able to do their internship if their family had not been able to provide some assistance.

As highlighted by the 2009 report of the Joint Inspection Unit on internships in the United Nations (JIU/NOTE/2009/2), the current policy not to provide any financial support to interns represents “a decisive factor” for otherwise highly-qualified young graduates not to participate in the programme, “simply because they could not afford to sustain themselves for such a period”. This equally affects both youth from developing countries, as well as an increasingly high number of graduates from developed economies, faced with rising levels of youth unemployment and mounting student debt.

By being accessible only to the few who can afford to live without any income in some of the most expensive cities in the world, unpaid internships foster inequalities among young people both between and within countries.

The lack of diversity among interns translates to the body of UN consultants and potentially impacts the pool of qualified candidates for UN staff positions. It is therefore important to ensure that access to the internship programme is granted on a fair, meritocratic and equal-opportunity basis.

Change is possible and examples of good practice exist. Some UN organizations (ILO, FAO, WFP, IFAD, UNOPS, WTO, WIPO, IAEA and others) already provide living stipends to interns. Policy coherence is needed across the UN to ensure that this becomes common practice.

The Fair Internship Initiative, on behalf of thousands of young people from all over the world and with the support of the Secretary General´s Envoy on Youth and dozens of youth organizations, kindly requests Member States to take action by requesting the Secretary-General to produce a report on this issue for consideration by the General Assembly. In our view, the report should:

  • Provide information on the demographics and conditions of service for interns in the Secretariat. No such report has previously been submitted by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly.
  • Provide possible options as of how a basic living allowance for interns who are unable to support themselves could be introduced and financed, including by reviewing the practices of other UN agencies and other large public sector organizations.
  • Propose a plan of affirmative action with concrete measures on how to increase the diversity of UN interns, by increasing the participation of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and from developing countries.
  • Propose a plan to increase the quality of internships including through the institutionalization of work plans that clearly define the goals, professional tasks and learning objectives of the internship, periodic reviews and guarantee of a minimum number of leave and sick days.
  • Consider providing interns with access a formal system of administration of justice (UNDT & UNAT).

We hope you will find our proposal reasonable and that you will be willing to support the voice of young people in this very important moment.

The linked background note provides further information and we stand ready for any questions you might have. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


The Fair Internship Initiative