UN intern story is a dramatic example, but the organisation should know better

When a story like that of David Hyde gains global coverage; a 22-year-old New Zealand graduate who said he had been living in a tent while on a United Nations internship, the long running debate about the merits of interning reignites.

Unfortunately much of the debate around internships is framed through a lens of ‘black and white’ divisions. The debate is shaped around whether an internship is unpaid (black) or paid (white). That doesn’t take into account the importance of internships as part of today’s HR processes, the complexity of the many structured programmes out there or the many positive internship stories. The fact is that gradireland’s own research of major graduate employers in Ireland shows that 86% of employers offer internships, and 93.5% of them pay. The average rate of payment was between €1,400 and €1,800 per month. Employers value interns greatly as part of their strategic recruitment objectives, as the employability skills learned contribute to their potential as future full term employees.

What this story does show is that the United Nations needs to get its house in order when it comes to how it is running its internship programme. Indeed, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states;”everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration.”

Mr Hyde’s torrid experiences of living in a tent by Lake Geneva, one of the world’s most expensive cities, represents a PR disaster for the UN, but, in his own words – he accepted the job knowing what he wasn’t getting and that his decisions to accept the role, and indeed to subsequently quit, were purely his own decisions. “The UN was clear about their internship policy from the start. No wage or stipend, no transport help, no food allowance, no health assistance. I understood this, and in that regard I have to take responsibility for accepting the internship in the first place.” It subsequently came to light that he had planned to live in the tent to publicise the situation which UN interns were facing. So while his planned publicity stunt, that was obviously going to precipitate serious financial hardship, does colour the story it doesn’t excuse the UN for operating its internship programmes in such a manner. An organisation such as the UN depends on diversity in order to realise its objectives, under its current modus operandi for interns, it can only really attract affluent students from developed nations. Notoriously slow and bureaucratic, it’s unlikely that Mr Hyde’s story will act as a silver bullet to address this situation. UN officials, responding to the story, said that change to their internship programme would have to be submitted as formal proposal to the General Assembly. They did however say that while the Secretariat in Geneva did not pay anything to interns, other parts of the United Nations did.

The UN, by its very nature, is an idealistic organisation, for all its many faults. In this case, it has displayed itself as faceless, bureaucratic and cold. While Mr Hyde must share a large portion of the blame, it’s not really acceptable for the planet’s only global organisation to reward the enthusiasm of today’s graduates, who want to contribute the organisation, in this manner.

For more on what you should expect as an intern, and how you can make the best of the experience, visit here. It is the policy of gradireland to only advertise paid internship positions.

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