The mother of a young Kiwi who was forced to rough it in a tent during his unpaid internship at the United Nations says she hopes his stance will bring about change at the international organisation.

The plight of David Hyde, 22, hit local headlines when Swiss newspaper Tribune de Geneve photographed him in his suit in front of the tent he was camping in on the shores of Lake Geneva, because he couldn't afford accommodation in one of the world's most expensive cities.

Overnight NZT Mr Hyde spoke to media outside the gates the UN's European headquarters, saying he had decided to resign.

"It's my own decision and I chose to resign because I felt that it would be too difficult to continue to focus on my work as an intern at this stage," Agence France-Presse reported.

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He called home to his parents in Christchurch before lunchtime today, his mum Vicki Hyde told NZME News Service.

"It was good to hear him, he seems a bit tired, but generally ok, which is good to hear."

It was a "relief" to hear from him, she said, adding: "You don't really want to catch up on your kids' exploits on the front page of the papers." A reference to finding out about her son's situation when he emailed her a link to the Tribune de Geneve story yesterday.

He made it clear he had come under no pressure from the UN to stand-down, she said, but felt the "huge amount of international attention" he was receiving was making it difficult to focus on his job.

"By the time you start seeing reports on the BBC and the Washington Post you start to look at it and think, 'oh boy'."

She hoped his raising the issue of unpaid internships on such a global scale would bring about change, she said.

"It would be phenomenal if something that my son did got the UN to change its attitude on something like this, and I think it would be a good look for New Zealand as well."

She added: "It would be nice if the UN did live up to its principles."

Ahmad Fawzi, a UN spokesman, told reporters during a weekly UN briefing that a general assembly resolution barred the organisation from paying interns. "We're not allowed to even if we want to, and believe me we want to. We would welcome a change to that resolution," he said, according to The Local.

Ms Hyde said: "I really hope that's the case."

Her son was going to take a couple of days to assess his situation and figure out what to do next, she said. He was yet to make any plans about his future, but would likely stay in Europe rather than return to New Zealand, she said.

He had somewhere to stay and was being supported locally.

Mr Hyde had numerous offers of help from Genevan locals, Tribune de Geneve said after the newspaper broke the story. And his mother revealed she'd even had an offer from Labour MP Jacinda Ardern, who was in the Swiss city at the time.

Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson contacted Ms Hyde to say she'd had a text from Ms Ardern "wanting to know if he needed any food or a meal or something, which I thought was really sweet", she said.

Mr Hyde's story had sparked international debate about the issue of unpaid internships. Tanya de Grunwald, founder of careers blog Graduate Fog, said Mr hyde "should never have resigned", reported The Guardian.

"Instead, the UN has a responsibility to pay all its staff a fair and legal wage for the work they do."

Earlier Mr Hyde told Swiss media he had lied during his internship interview when asked whether he would be able to support himself during his stay. This was because when he had previously answered that question truthfully he found doors had closed on him, he said.

"The UN was clear about their intern 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 taking the internship in the first place."

But that did not make the practice fair, he said.

"Call me young and call me idealistic but I don't think this is a fair system," he said, urging interns worldwide to "push for the recognition of our value and the equal rights that we deserve".

Attempts to contact UN Development Programme administrator, and former Prime Minister, Helen Clark were unsuccessful.

Earlier this year she gave a speech saying she was "confident that the UN system can help ensure that 2015 is a big opportunity for the world's young people to play their full part in shaping a more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable future for us all".

The United Nations celebrated International Youth Day yesterday, with Ms Clark tweeting that "we cannot achieve proposed #GlobalGoals w/o our youth".