United Nations: Pay Interns A Living Wage

Target: Ban-ki Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Goal: Pay interns a living wage for working at the United Nations

One defining factor of the developed world is that it is supposed to offer social mobility for hardworking citizens. However, many of the most prestigious internships are unpaid, making it difficult for young people to make the connections that lead to meaningful jobs. The fields most known for unpaid internships are journalism, the arts, and, sadly, politics. The United Nations, our international arbiter of First-World living guidelines, is guilty of not only refusing to pay interns, but of auctioning off an unpaid internship for $22,000 last month.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Social Justice auctioned off the internship on a site called CharityBuzz, along with other opportunities such as seeing Jay Leno’s car collection or meeting Ryan Seacrest. The money was to “carry forward Robert Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world.”

On a more practical note, the United Nations internship lasts 6 weeks, and the intern will incur expenses which the UN estimates at around $2500 a month. The internship lasts 25 hours per week. The intern is forbidden from taking other paid work during that time, which ensures that there is virtually no way a student can take the internship without wealthy parents footing the bill. And just in case a student was able to save up the money to do the internship for 6 weeks, interns are prohibited from taking paid jobs with the UN for 6 months after completing the internship. The UN suggests that the intern follow up with the United Nations Volunteers Programme, which is also unpaid.

If the United Nations wants to set an example for the world about social mobility, it should practice what it preaches by paying interns enough to live on. It should award scholarships for future policy-makers. Some of the best presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton, were born poor. It’s bad enough that unpaid internships deter promising young people from entering creative professions. It’s disgusting that an organization responsible for upholding international well-being is keeping less-privileged students out of public service. Urge the United Nations to pay its interns a living wage.


Dear Mr. Moon,

We are disgusted and ashamed of the United Nations for not paying interns. And we were horrified to find out that you auctioned off an internship for $22,000 last month.

The UN is supposed to set international guidelines for First World living standards, and one of those standards is the opportunity for social mobility. Education, including internships, is the most common way for people to earn a better standard of living than their parents. By not paying interns in cities such as New York and Geneva, which by your admission cost at least $2500 a month to live in, you are ensuring that only students with wealthy parents can afford to take your prestigious internships. And even if the student has managed to save enough money to do the internship, you don’t give them paying work at the UN for at least 6 months after that internship.

This sets a terrible example to the nations which you are trying to help out of poverty. Also, students who come from underprivileged backgrounds are more likely to set policies that enable social mobility. By only offering internships to wealthy students, you are making it all the less likely that future policy makers will understand what it’s like to be poor. Social class is more rigid than it was a generation ago, and this is largely because of the prohibitive cost of education and internships. We urge you to do your part as a public servant by paying United Nations interns a living wage.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Patrick Gruban via Wikimedia Commons

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