This week 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Geneva pledged to pay their interns. After various campaigns pushing for change like the “Pay your interns” initiative, or the media stunt by New Zealand intern David Hyde, who camped on the shore of Lake Geneva to highlight the issue, NGOs in Geneva have heard these calls and are now taking action.
The charter, signed by 27 organisations, recognises the primary purpose of internships: a chance to acquire knowledge and experience, while setting a minimum stipend of CHF 500 per month for a full time position.
The 27 organisations committed to following the charter can be found here. The list of signatories is short compared to the total number of NGOs in Geneva. The website Genève International lists over 200 NGOs operating in the Geneva region. 27 represents less than one in seven. There are some organisations, such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), that pay interns but have not signed the charter.
Many of those fighting to be paid refer to part of the universal declaration of human rights which states that “Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity.”
Pressure has been building around the world for more pay for interns working for NGOs. Last September, interns created a human chain outside the United Nations in New York to protest the issue. Those worst affected are interns from developing countries that often cannot survive without an income, effectively excluding them from work at global organisations often working principally on humanitarian activities in their home countries.
According to Swissinfo.ch, in an article from June 2015, “a handful of UN agencies in Geneva like the International Labour Organisation (ILO) pay interns – the ILO pays CHF1,850 per month since 2011 – they are a minority.”
The ILO hasn’t always paid its interns according to Ian Richards, who heads the UN staff trade union in Geneva. In a BBC interview last year he says “A few years ago at the International Labour Organisation, they found an intern sleeping in the basement. That created a lot of noise in the press and, as a result, the ILO decided to pay its interns.”
An EU-wide study by the European Commission in 2013 showed that 59% of interns were not paid.