Iceland's Parliament Approves Law Protecting Whistleblowers

Iceland’s Parliament Approves Law Protecting Whistleblowers

Published May 13, 2020

Photo by
Timothée Lambrecq

At long last, Iceland has now encoded in law the protection of whistleblowers in the public and private sphere alike, RÚV reports.

The stated purpose of the law is “to be informed of illegal activity and other bad faith practices, and reduce them”. The law applies to workers in the public sector and private sector alike, allowing these workers to report information or submit documentation that disclose illegal or unethical practices in the workplace. In this instance, “unethical practices” are defined as “practices that endanger the public interest, e.g. when something threatens the health and safety of people or the environment, without it being a clear violation of law or regulations.”

According to the law, it will be illegal to retaliate against workers who engage in whistleblowing by reducing their rights, significantly changing their work duties, or firing them.

The draft of this law was first produced last October within the Prime Minister’s office. The need for these protections are actually a long time coming, with a report from 2018 recommending these protections be enacted.

As reported, Reporters Without Borders lowered Iceland’s press freedom ranking last year. The major reason for this was that “relations between politicians and media have soured”, the most recent example being the injunction that was placed on media outlets Stundin and Reykjavík Media in October 2017. Their reporting was based on information provided by a whistleblower, which local authorities interpreted as a violation of bank privacy laws.

While the injunction was eventually overturned, the chilling effect is undeniable.

The drive to protect whistleblowers in Iceland goes back further than this. The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a parliamentary proposal adopted in 2010, set amongst its goals to make Iceland an “information safe haven”, which included protections for whistleblowers. However, parliamentary proposals are just that: proposals, i.e., stated aims and goals, and not concrete legislation.

With these protections now encoded in law, years of hard work has at last come to fruition.

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