U.N.'s Unpaid Interns Protest in New York

It is supposed to be the forum for the world's nations to come together, promote human rights and work towards world peace, but earlier this week, the United Nations found itself the target of a protest over an issue closer to home. On Tuesday, a group of both current and former U.N. interns protested outside the organization's New York headquarters over the organization's policy of hosting unpaid internships.

According to VICE News, a group of over 25 interns, calling itself the "Quality and Fairly Remunerated Internships Initiative" organized the event, which involved formed a human chain outside the U.N. Secretariat Building, demanding that Secretary General Ban Ki Moon address the organization's internship policy.

The recent case of 22-year-old David Hyde brought attention to the issue of unpaid internships to light. Swiss press reported that Hyde had been living in a tent while working as an intern at the U.N. in Geneva. Hyde, who travelled from New Zealand to take up the internship, wrote an article for The Intercept website in August, in which he said that he made the decision to live in a tent as he couldn't afford the accommodation in the Swiss city.

On the U.N. webpage for its internship program, it's states that the positions are not paid. "All costs related to travel, insurance, accommodation, and living expenses must be borne by either the interns or their sponsoring institutions," the message reads.

According to The Guardian, U.N. organizations not included as part of the secretariat—the U.N.'s executive arm— are able to make their own rules about paying interns. The International Labour Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, all pay a stipend, usually amounting to around $600-$700 a month, to cover basic costs for interns who do not receive financial support from an institution, university or other source.

VICE News spoke to a number of protesters taking part in the demonstration on Tuesday. Alex Kucharski, who is from the U.K. and currently works as an intern at the U.N. said, "I really think it's unfair that the internships are unpaid, not just because of my personal reasons, because I had to save up for eight months for this and I'm going to be living in someone's lounge."

"The problem is because they are unpaid, people from developing countries can't come here, unless they are from really rich families. It excludes big social groups from being able to participate," he said.

Claire Maizonnier, from Australia, told VICE News that she receives funding for travel and accommodation from the Swedish government because she studies in Sweden. "There are many talented people that don't have that opportunity, or that option," she said. "It's not feasible for them, particularly if you are coming from developing countries."

According to The Guardian, during 2012-13, there were 4,018 unpaid interns working across all the U.N.'s departments.

Stéphane Dujarric, a U.N. Secretary General spokesperson, was quoted by The Guardian as saying that the current system of unpaid interns does "clearly disqualifies people" and "basically allows the U.N. to have people who can afford it."

The U.N. did not respond to request for comment.