David Hyde has been sleeping on a patch of ground overlooking Lake Geneva not far from the the UN Beach Club, where well-heeled employees sunbathe, paddle in the water and sip aperitifs at the bar.
Hyde’s predicament caught the attention of the Tribune de Genève newspaper, which reported on how he struggled to deal with heavy rain from a storm on Sunday.
“I did not choose the most waterproof tent in the store,” he admitted to the newspaper.
The area where he pitched his tent was soaked and yet the morning after Hyde had to put on his suit, fold up his tent, pack up his gas stove and other meagre belongings and head off to his unpaid job.
“How do the others do it?” he asked of the dozens of interns who take six-month positions at the UN without a salary.
“Finally only those with parents who can pay have a chance.”
Hyde resigned himself to living in a tent after searching for a room or studio to rent only to find the rents — in a city known to be one of the most expensive in the world — were beyond his means.
Now, he is questioning whether he will be able to finish his internship.
“I was perhaps naive in coming here but this policy (of not paying interns) makes me furious.”
The Geneva Interns Association has been lobbying for the UN and related Geneva-based international organizations — including the International Labour Organization — to change its ways.
The association organized a Labour Day march in May this year to draw attention to the non-payment issue and it has demonstrated in front of UNOG headquarters about how young people are being exploited by an organization that ought to be setting an example.
It has pointed to the “inconsistency” of the UN, which promotes globally such values as non-discrimination, diversity and inclusiveness “but does not apply these to its own staff”.
Making matters more difficult for interns who do not have financial backing, is a clause that bans them from working for the UN in the six months following their internships.
The UN and its agencies in Geneva employ 162 interns annually, with each agency determining its own policy as to whether they are paid or not, Ahmad Fawzi, director of the UN information service told the Tribune de Genève.
According to a survey conducted by the Geneva Interns Association, 68.5 percent of these interns were unpaid in 2013.
Swiss federal labor regulations do not apply to the UN and its agencies.