Iceland is an island country located between North America and Europe in the Atlantic Ocean, near the Arctic Circle with an advanced economy that centers around three primary sectors: fisheries, tourism, and aluminum production. Until recently, U.S. investment in Iceland has mostly been concentrated in the aluminum sector, with Alcoa and Century Aluminum operating plants in Iceland. However, U.S. portfolio investments in Iceland have been steadily increasing in recent years. Iceland’s convenient location between the United States and Europe, its high levels of education, connectivity, and English proficiency, and a general appreciation for U.S. products make Iceland a promising market for U.S. companies. Furthermore, Americans made up a third of the tourist population that visited Iceland in 2021.
There is broad recognition within the Icelandic government that foreign direct investment (FDI) is a key contributor to the country’s economic revival after the 2008 financial collapse. As part of its investment promotion strategy, the Icelandic government operates a public-private agency called “Invest in Iceland” that facilitates foreign investment by providing information to potential investors and promoting investment incentives. Iceland has identified the following “key sectors” in Iceland; tourism; algae culture; data centers; and life sciences. Iceland offers incentives to foreign investors in certain industries.
Tourism has been a growing force behind Iceland’s economy in the past decade, with opportunities for investors in high-end tourism, including luxury resorts and hotels. The number of tourists in Iceland grew by more than 400 percent between 2010 and 2018, reaching more than 2.3 million in 2018. However, tourism in Iceland contracted in 2019, and the COVID-19 pandemic has had drastic effects on tourism, and the overall economy. The government implemented measures to bolster the tourism economy, thus avoiding mass bankruptcies in the sector, and has committed to building out tourism-related infrastructure.
The startup and innovation communities in Iceland are flourishing, with the IT and biotech sectors growing fast, particularly pharmaceuticals and wellness, gaming, and aquaculture. Iceland’s IT sector spans all areas of the digital economy. The Icelandic energy grid derives 99 percent of its power from renewable resources, making it uniquely attractive for energy-dependent industries. For instance, the data center industry in Iceland is expanding.
Iceland is working by the 2018 Climate Acton Plan, which was updated in 2020, and is designed to achieve Iceland’s national climate goals of making the country carbon neutral by 2040 and to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 under the Paris Agreement.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2021||13 of 175||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|Global Innovation Index||2021||17 of 132||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2020||$796||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2020||$62,420||https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
The government of Iceland maintains an open investment climate. The Act on Incentives for Initial Investments, which came into force in 2015, is intended to “promote initial investment in commercial operations, the competitiveness of Iceland and regional development by specifying what incentives are permitted in respect of initial investments in Iceland, and how they should be used.” The Act does not apply to investments in airports, energy production, financial institutions, insurance operations, or securities. For more information, see the English translation of the act: ( ).
As part of its investment promotion strategy, the Icelandic government operates a public-private agency called “Invest in Iceland” that facilitates foreign investment by providing information to potential investors and promotes investment incentives. There is a debate, however, within Iceland over balancing energy intensive FDI with the environmental impact associated with certain projects. That said, energy-intensive industries long dominated by aluminum smelting, have expanded to include silicon production plants and data centers. For further resources see: ( ).
Tourism has been a growing force behind Iceland’s economy in the past decade, with opportunities for investors in high-end tourism, including luxury resorts and hotels. The number of tourists in Iceland grew by more than 400 percent between 2010 and 2018, reaching more than 2.3 million in 2018. However, tourism in Iceland contracted in 2019 with visitors falling just below 2 million, which can be largely attributed to the fall of Icelandic budget airline WOW Air. The COVID-19 pandemic has had drastic effects on tourism, as well as on Iceland’s overall economy, which contracted by 7.1 percent in 2020, according to Statistics Iceland. Less than half a million tourists visited Iceland in 2020, with the number of tourists reaching 700,000 in 2021. Stakeholders in the industry have been generally optimistic for 2022, with hotels reporting good booking positions for the spring and summer seasons.
Isavia, a public company that handles the operation and development of Keflavik International Airport has embarked on $1-2 billion capital works project to expand the airport. Projects include extension of buildings, baggage screening and baggage handling systems, self-check in stations, waiting areas and retail/dining areas, check-in areas, bag-drop off areas, security areas, airbridges/gates for remote stands, re-modelling of existing terminal, de-icing platforms, new runway, new taxiway, and a new ATC tower.
The startup and innovation communities in Iceland are flourishing, with IT and biotech startups seeking investors. Foreign investment in the fisheries sector is restricted, as well as in the energy sector (hydropower and geothermal exploitation rights other than for personal use and energy processing and transportation are limited to Icelandic citizens and legal persons, and individuals and legal persons who reside in the European Economic Area). The wind energy sector is growing in Iceland, and the legal framework is still being developed for that sector.
The 1991 Act on “foreign investments for commercial purposes” limits foreign ownership of fishing rights and fish processing companies (only Icelandic citizens or companies that are controlled by Icelandic citizens and have less than 25 percent foreign shareholders can own or control fishing companies); of hydropower and geothermal exploitation rights other than for personal use and energy processing and transportation (only Icelandic citizens and legal persons, and individuals and legal persons who reside in the European Economic Area (EEA) can hold those rights); and of aviation operators (Icelandic ownership of aviation companies needs to be at least 51 percent, and this does not apply to individuals and legal persons that have EEA citizenship). The law further stipulates that foreign states, sub-national governments, or other foreign authorities are prohibited from investing in Iceland for commercial purposes, although the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs may grant exemptions. The responsibility to inform the relevant ministry of both new investments and investments in companies that the party in question has already invested in lies with the investor, or with the Icelandic company that the foreign individual or entity invested in (this does not apply to EEA citizens or residents).
However, the 1991 Act does not stipulate how foreign investment is screened or monitored by relevant authorities, only that the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs handles permits and monitors the execution of this legislation. The Minister can block foreign investments if s/he considers it a “threat to national security or goes against public policy, public safety or public health or if there are serious economic, societal or environmental complications in specific industries or in specific areas, that is likely to persist…” The law further states that the “Minister has the authority to stop foreign investment in systematically important companies if such investment entails systematic risk.” If an investment has already taken place, the Minister of Tourism, Industries, and Innovation has the authority to compel the foreign person or entity in question to sell.
Iceland has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995 and a member of GATT since 1968. The WTO conducted its fifth Trade Policy Review of Iceland in 2017 ( ). The review notes that “with a small population and limited natural resources, apart from energy and fish, trade remains important, but the range of exports is limited to tourism, fish and fish products, and aluminum and products thereof. Therefore, the country remains vulnerable to shocks, including the appreciation of the ISK, overheating of the economy, and Brexit. Furthermore, despite uncertainties relating to Brexit, as growth picks up in the EU, Iceland’s main trading partner, opportunities for trade in goods and services should continue to improve.”
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UN Cooperation for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have not conducted Investment Policy Reviews for Iceland.
Businesses are registered with Iceland Revenue and Customs (Skatturinn) ( ). Applications for the registration of businesses can be filled in online, however some forms are in Icelandic only and it is therefore necessary for foreign businesses to contract a local representative to complete the paperwork. The website of the Business Registry in Iceland is ( ) (Icelandic only). More information on establishing a business in Iceland can be found here ( ).
Services offered by Invest in Iceland, a public-private agency that promotes and facilitates foreign investment in Iceland, are free of charge to all potential foreign investors ( ). Invest in Iceland can provide information on investment opportunities in Iceland; collect data on the business environment, arrange site visits and plan contacts with local authorities; arrange meetings with local business partner and professional consultants; influence legislation and lobby on behalf of foreign investors ( ). Invest in Iceland offers detailed information on how to establish a company on its website ( ). Its sister agencies, Business Iceland (formerly Promote Iceland) ( ) and Film in Iceland ( ), aim to enhance Iceland’s reputation as a tourist destination and as a destination for filming movies and television productions.
The Icelandic Government along with other stakeholders promote exports of Icelandic goods and services through the public-private agency Islandsstofa, also known as Business Iceland ( ). Business Iceland assists Icelandic businesses in the main industry sectors to export products and services, including fisheries (seafood and technology), agricultural produce (including organic lamb meat), high-tech products and solutions (software, prosthetics, etc.), and services (tourism). Business Iceland has been very active in the United States and Canada in recent years. A trade commissioner represents the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New York, facilitating exports to the United States and promoting business relations between the two countries. Business Iceland also promotes exports to the U.K., Northern and Southern Europe, and more recently to Asia (China and Japan).
Iceland imposed capital controls following the economic collapse in late 2008, which largely prevented Icelandic investors and pensions funds from investing outside of Iceland. The government lifted capital controls on March 14, 2017.
3. Legal Regime
The regulatory system is transparent, although bureaucratic delays can occur. All proposed laws and regulations are published in draft form for the public record and are open for comment. Icelandic laws regulating business practices are consistent with those of most OECD member states. Iceland’s laws are generally based on European Union directives as a result of Iceland’s membership in the European Economic Area (EEA), which legally obligates it to adopt EU directives and law concerning the four freedoms of the EU: free movement of goods, services, persons, and capital.
The Competition Authority is responsible for enforcing anti-monopoly regulations and promoting effective competition in business activities. This includes eliminating unreasonable barriers and restrictions on freedom in business operations, preventing monopolies and limitations on competition, and facilitating new competitors’ access to the market. The Consumer Agency holds primary responsibility for market surveillance of business operators, transparency of the markets with respect to safety and consumers’ legal rights, and enforcement of legislation concerning protection of consumers’ health, legal, and economic rights. For more information see the Competition Authority’s website ( ) and the Consumer Agency website ( ).
The Icelandic Parliament (Althingi) consists of a single chamber of 63 members; a simple majority is required for ordinary bills to become law. All bills are introduced in the parliament in draft form. Draft laws and regulations are open to public comment and are published in full on the parliament’s web page ( ) and on the websites of the relevant ministries (often in English). Invest in Iceland also maintains an information portal website that includes information on industry sectors, the business climate, and incentives that foreign investors may find useful ( ).
Ministries or regulatory agencies develop bills, which are available to the general public. Ministries or regulatory agencies publish the text of the proposed regulations before their enactment on a unified website ( ). Ministries or regulatory agencies solicit comments on proposed regulation form the general public. Laws and regulations are published on both the parliament’s website ( ) and separate website managed by the Ministry of Justice ( ).
The OECD published a report on Iceland in September 2019. One of the findings of the report was that regulatory barriers were high in Iceland. “Regulation should be more commensurate with the needs of a small open economy. Product market regulation is stringent and the administrative burden for start-ups is high, holding back investment and innovation. Restrictions to foreign direct investment are among the highest of the OECD, dampening employment and productivity gains through international knowledge transfer. The government should set up a comprehensive action plan for regulatory reform, prioritizing reforms that foster competition, level the playing field between domestic and foreign firms and attract international investment” ( ). The Government of Iceland has worked to reduce the regulatory burden since the report was published. OECD conducted an economic survey of Iceland in 2021. The key findings are as follows: “the pandemic-related collapse of foreign tourism and international travel, which account for almost a fifth of GDP, highlighted the need to diversify the economy. Iceland needs to improve resilience and find new drivers of productivity and employment growth, in particular given the objective of emission reductions. Boosting skills across the population is hence the top priority, along with reforms to strengthen competitive forces.”
The Iceland Chamber of Commerce operates an independent arbitration institute, the Nordic Arbitration Centre (NAC). The NAC provides for a dispute resolution mechanism, allowing parties to solve their dispute efficiently and safely. Both the arbitration process and the Arbitral Tribunals final awards are strictly confidential. There have been no known cases of discrimination against U.S. investors. For more information visit the Iceland Chamber of Commerce’s website ( ).
Icelandic laws regulating business practices are generally consistent with other OECD members. Iceland’s laws are generally based on EU directives as a result of Iceland’s membership in the EEA, which legally obligates it to adopt EU directives and law concerning four freedoms of the EU: free movement, goods, services, persons, and capital.
Iceland has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since January 1, 1995. Iceland and the United States signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in January 2009.
The Icelandic civil law system enforces property rights, contractual rights, and the means to protect these rights. The Icelandic court system is independent from the parliament and government. Foreign parties must abide by the same rules as Icelandic parties, and they enjoy the same privileges in court; there is no discrimination against foreign parties in the Icelandic court system. When trade or investment disputes are settled, the settlement is usually remitted in the local currency.
Iceland has a three-tier judicial system; eight District Courts (Héraðsdómstólar), the Court of Appeal (Landsréttur), and the Supreme Court (Hæstiréttur Íslands). All court actions commence at the District Courts, and conclusions can then be appealed to the Court of Appeal. In special cases the conclusions of the Court of Appeal can be referred to the Supreme Court. A new public agency, the Judicial Administration (Dómstólasýsla), along with the Court of Appeal (Landsréttur) began operating on January 1, 2018.
The Landsdómur is a special high court or impeachment court to handle cases where members of the Cabinet of Iceland are suspected of criminal behavior. The Landsdómur has 15 members — five supreme court justices, a district court president, a constitutional law professor, and eight people chosen by parliament every six years. The court assembled for the first time in 2011 to prosecute a former Prime Minister for alleged gross misconduct in the events leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. He was found guilty of failing to hold regular cabinet meetings during the crisis but was not convicted of gross misconduct.
Icelandic laws regulating and protecting foreign investments are consistent with OECD and EU standards. As Iceland is a member of the EEA, most EU commercial legislation and directives are in effect in Iceland. The major law governing foreign investment is the 1996 Act on Investment by Non-residents in Business Enterprises, which grants national treatment to non-residents of the EEA. The law dictates that foreign ownership of businesses is generally unrestricted, except for limits in the fishing, energy, and aviation sectors. Icelandic law also restricts the ability of non-EEA citizens to own land, but the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs may waive this. The managers and the majority of the board of directors in an Icelandic enterprise must be domiciled in Iceland or another EEA member state, although exemptions from this provision can be granted by the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs.
Iceland has no automatic screening process for investments that trigger national security concerns (similar to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States), although bidders in privatization sales may have to go through a pre-qualification process to verify that the bidder has the financial strength to participate. Investors that intend to hold more than 10 percent of shares (“active” shareholders) in financial institutions are subject to approval from the Central Bank of Iceland ( ).
Competition Law no. 44/2005 is currently in place to promote competition and to prevent unreasonable barriers on economic operations. Depending on the turnover of the companies in question, the Icelandic Competition Authority is notified of mergers and acquisitions. The Authority may annul mergers or set conditions to prevent monopolies and limitations on competition. For more information see the Competition Authority’s website: ( ).
The Constitution of Iceland stipulates that no one may be obliged to surrender their property unless required by the government to serve a public interest, and that such a measure shall be provided for by law and full compensation be paid. A special committee is appointed every five years to review and proclaim the legality of expropriation cases. If the committee proclaims a case to be legal, it will negotiate an amount of compensation with the appropriate parties. If an amount cannot be agreed upon, the committee determines a fair value after hearing the case of all parties.
The Icelandic government has never expropriated a foreign investment. However, some private investors described actions by the Icelandic government before and during the October 2008 financial crisis (related to the takeover of three major banks and offshore krona assets) as a type of indirect expropriation ( ).
The 1991 Act on Bankruptcy states that “the provisions of this Act on the right to obtain a license of financial reorganization or for composition with creditors, and on bankruptcy, shall only apply to a debtor who is a natural person if the debtor’s legal domicile is in Iceland and the debtor is not exempted from the jurisdiction of the courts of Iceland. The provisions of this Act shall however be applied to Icelandic nationals not having their legal domicile in Iceland if they are exempted from the jurisdiction of the courts of other states. Where the debtor is a company or an institution the provisions of this Act on his right to obtain a license of financial reorganization or for composition with creditors, or on bankruptcy, shall only apply if the following conditions are fulfilled: in the case of a registered company, if its registered venue is in Iceland, and in the case of an unregistered company, if its venue is on Iceland according to its articles or as provided for by law, or in the nature of the matter. The same shall apply, as applicable, to institutions.” For more information, refer to the Act on Bankruptcy ( ).
4. Industrial Policies
Iceland welcomes foreign direct investment. Iceland has, through the public-private agency Invest in Iceland, identified the following “key sectors” in Iceland: algae culture; data centers; life sciences; and tourism. Iceland “focuses on favorable environment for businesses in general, including low corporate tax, availability of land and efficiency in a European legislative framework.” Iceland offers a reimbursement scheme in the film industry. Authorities reimburse 25 percent of cost incurred during the production of television programs and films in Iceland. For more information visit ( ).
The 2015 Act on Incentives for Initial Investments in Iceland implemented to “promote initial investment in commercial operations, the competitiveness of Iceland and regional development by specifying what incentives are permitted in respect to initial investments in Iceland and how they should be used.” For more information see the English translation of the act ( ).
There is significant debate regarding the appropriate types and level of FDI in Iceland, particularly within the energy sector and with regard to job creation and the environmental impact associated with certain projects. Historically, foreign investment has been in energy-intensive industries, such as aluminum smelting, although investments in tourism, life sciences, and information technology have grown as a proportion of total FDI in recent years.
Subsidiaries of foreign companies are able to participate in government-subsidized research and development programs, but only to cover R&D costs that are borne in Iceland. For further information see ( ).
Iceland follows the EU General Data Protection Regulation and is a member of the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield arrangement for transatlantic data transfers. The Icelandic Data Protection Authority (DPA) monitors the implementation of Regulation 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and of the Act on Data Protection and the Processing of Personal Data no. 90/2018. DPA’s law-enforcement work includes “monitoring data controllers and ensuring that they take appropriate security measures, in accordance with law.” For more information see the Icelandic Data Protection Authority’s website ( ).
5. Protection of Property Rights
Only Icelandic citizens and foreign citizens that have permanent residency in Iceland can acquire the right to own or use real property in Iceland, including fishing and hunting rights, water rights, or other real property rights, whether by free assignation or enforcement measures, marriage, inheritance, or deed of transfer. However, special rules apply for citizens of the EEA. The Minister of Justice may grant exemption from these conditions based on application showing the need of ownership for business activities. The Minister’s permission is not necessary if leasing real property for less than three years or when the party involved enjoys rights in Iceland under the rules of the EEA. For more information, please see the Act on the Right of Ownership and Use of Real Property ( ).
Property rights are generally enforced in Iceland. There is good access to mortgages and other financing to purchase real property in Iceland from commercial banks, pension funds and private lenders.
Iceland adheres to key international agreements on property rights. Trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and industrial designs are all protected under Icelandic law. Iceland is a signatory of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), and of the European Patent Convention (EPC). For further information see ( ). Iceland is also a member of the European Patent Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and a party to most WIPO-administered agreements. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at ( ).
The Icelandic Intellectual Property Office’s (ISIPO) is a government agency under the auspices of the Minister of Industries and Innovation. The institution was established on July 1, 1991 and assumed responsibility for the patent and trademark department from the Ministry of Industries. In 2019, ISIPO, which used to be called the Icelandic Patent Office, took up its current name, the Icelandic Intellectual Property Office. ISIPO’s scope of operation is defined by Advertisement no. 187/1991 and Regulation no. 188/1991. ISIPO is responsible for “issues relating to patents, trademarks, design protection, municipal emblems, and other comparable rights as provided for by law, regulations, and international agreements on the protection of intellectual property rights in the field of industry.” For more information visit, the ISIPO webpage in English ( ).
Illegal downloading and distribution of films and TV shows has decreased in recent years due to widespread access to international streaming services, such as Netflix and Disney Plus. Purchasing cheap, counterfeit consumer goods on Chinese websites, namely AliEpxress.com is popular in Iceland, although that trend has declined somewhat due to increasing fees imposed by Iceland Post on incoming international deliveries. Customs seize counterfeit products if found and contact the owner of the intellectual property who then decides whether to press charges against the importer. If the owner of the intellectual property does not want to take legal actions, customs clears the items and send them to the importer. Iceland Revenue and Customs has on a few occasions seized counterfeit consumer goods that led to charges being pressed against the importer, including shipments containing counterfeit Nike shoes and Arco designer lamps in 2014. Iceland Revenue and Customs participated in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s campaign against counterfeit products in 2014 ( ).
Iceland is not listed in the USTR’s 2021 Special 301 Report, but the country is listed in the Notorious Markets for Piracy and Counterfeiting 2021 Report, as Iceland reportedly hosts servers for hosting provider FlokiNET.
6. Financial Sector
Capital controls were lifted in March 2017 after more than eight years of restricting the free movement of capital. New foreign currency inflows fall under the Rules on Special Reserve Requirements for new Currency Inflows, no. 223/2019 which took effect on March 6, 2019, and replaced the older Rules no. 490/2016 on the same subject. The rules contain provisions on the implementation of special reserve requirements for new foreign currency inflows, including the special reserve base, holding period, special reserve ratio, settlement currency, and interest rates on deposit institutions’ capital flow accounts with the Central Bank of Iceland and Central Bank certificates of deposit. For more information see the Central Bank of Iceland’s website ( ).
Foreign portfolio investment has increased significantly over the past few years in Iceland after being dormant in the years following the economic crash. U.S. investment funds have been particularly active on the Icelandic stock exchange. The Icelandic stock exchange operates under the name Nasdaq Iceland. Companies listed on Nasdaq Iceland are reported on its website ( ). The private sector has access to financing through the commercial banks and pensions funds.
The IMF 2019 Article IV Consultation report states that “the de jure exchange rate arrangement is free floating, and the de facto exchange rate arrangement under the IMF classification system is floating. In the period from November 2018 to October 31, 2019, the Central Bank of Iceland (CBI) intervened in the foreign exchange market on 14 of the 248 working days. The CBI publishes daily data on its foreign exchange intervention with a lag. Iceland has accepted the obligations under Article VIII, Sections 2(a), 3, and 4 and maintains no exchange restrictions subject to Fund jurisdiction under Article VIII, Section 2(a). Iceland continues to maintain certain measures that constitute exchange restrictions imposed for security reasons based on UN Security Council Resolutions.” ( ).
The Central Bank of Iceland is an independent institution owned by the State and operates under the auspices of the Prime Minister. Its objective is to promote price stability, financial stability, and sound and secure financial activities. The bank also maintains international reserves and promotes a safe, effective financial system, including domestic and cross-border payment intermediation.
The Icelandic banking sector is generally healthy. The Central Bank of Iceland has since the financial collapse of 2008 introduced stringent measures to ensure that the financial system remains “safe, stable, and effective.” For more information see the Central Bank webpage ( ). There are three commercial banks in Iceland, Landsbankinn, Islandsbanki, and Arion Bank. The Government of Iceland took over operations of the banks during the financial collapse in September and October 2008. Landsbankinn (formerly known as Landsbanki Islands) is still government-owned, while the Government of Iceland is in the process of privatizing Islandsbanki (formerly known as Glitnir). Arion Bank (formerly known as Kaupthing Bank) has been privatized and is listed on the Icelandic stock exchange Nasdaq Iceland. There is one investment bank in Iceland, Kvika, which is listed on Nasdaq Iceland. Icelandic pension funds offer loans and mortgages and are active investors in Icelandic companies. There are no foreign banks operating in Iceland.
All companies have access to regular commercial banking services in Iceland. Establishing a bank account in Iceland requires a local personal identification number known as a “kennitala.” Foreign nationals should contact Registers Iceland for more information on how to register in Iceland ( ).
The Government of Iceland has proposed establishing a sovereign wealth fund, called the National Fund of Iceland. The bill to establish the fund has not passed through Parliament. The stated purpose of the fund is “to serve as a sort of disaster relief reserve for the nation, when the Treasury suffers a financial blow in connection with severe, unforeseen shocks to the national economy, either due to a plunge in revenues or the cost of relief measures that the government has considered unavoidable to undertake.”
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The Icelandic Government owns wholly or majority shares in 40 companies, including systematically important companies such as energy companies, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RUV) and Iceland Post. Other notable SOEs are Landsbankinn (one of three commercial banks in Iceland), Isavia (public company that operates Keflavik International Airport), and ATVR (the only company allowed to sell alcohol to the general public). Here you can find a list of SOEs ( ). Total assets of SOEs in 2020 amounted to 5,735 billion ISK (approx. $44.3 billion) and SOEs employed around 5,100 people that same year. In terms of assets and equity, Landsbankinn (one of three commercial banks in Iceland) is the largest SOE in Iceland, and Isavia employs the most people.
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) generally compete under the same terms and conditions as private enterprises, except in the energy production and distribution sector. Private enterprises have similar access to financing as SOEs through the banking system.
As an OECD member, Iceland adheres to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance. The Iceland Chamber of Commerce in Iceland, NASDAQ OMX Iceland and the Confederation of Icelandic Employers have issued guidelines that mirror the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance. Iceland is party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
For SOEs operating within the private sector in a competitive environment, the general guideline from the Icelandic government is that all decisions of the board of the SOE should ensure a level playing field and spur competition in the market.
In the midst of the banking crisis, the state, through the Financial Supervisory Authority (FME), took over Iceland’s three largest commercial banks, which collapsed in October 2008, and subsequently took over several savings banks to allow for uninterrupted banking services in the country. The government has started the privatization process of Islandsbanki, and currently owns 42.5 percent shares in the bank. The Bank Shares Management Company, established by the state in 2009, manages state-owned shares in financial companies.
The government of Iceland has acquired stakes in many companies through its ownership of shares in the banks; however, it is the policy of the government not to interfere with internal or day-to-day management decisions of these companies. Instead, in 2009, the state established the Bank Shares Management Company to manage the state-owned shares in financial companies. The board of this entity, consisting of individuals appointed by the Minister of Finance, appoints a selection committee, which in turn chooses the State representative to sit on the boards of the various companies.
While most energy producers are either owned by the state or municipalities, there is free competition in the energy market. That said, potential foreign investment in critical sectors like energy is likely to be met by demands for Icelandic ownership, either formally or from the public. For example, a Canadian company, Magma Energy, acquired a 95 percent stake in the energy production company HS Orka in 2010, but later sold a 33.4 percent stake to the Icelandic pension funds in the face of intense public pressure.
Iceland’s universal healthcare system is mainly state-operated. However, few legal restrictions to private medical practice exist; private clinics are required to maintain an agreement regarding payment for services with the Icelandic state, a foreign state, or an insurance company.
Icelandic authorities are currently in the process of privatizing Islandsbanki, one of Iceland’s three commercial banks. Authorities sold 35 percent shares in Islandsbanki in 2021, and 22.5 percent earlier this year. The government currently owns 42.5 percent in the bank. The government of Iceland currently owns 99.8 percent in Landsbankinn and has no immediate plans to privatize it. The government took ownership of the banks when the Icelandic banking system collapsed in 2008. Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Bjarni Benediktsson, has publicly declared his intentions to sell all government of Iceland shares in Islandsbanki, but wants the government to remain a large shareholder in Landsbankinn, with around 40 percent of shares.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
As an OECD member, Iceland adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The Ministry for Culture and Business Affairs houses Iceland’s National Contact Point for the Guidelines, charged with promoting the due diligence approach of the Guidelines to the business community and to facilitate the resolution of any disputes arising in the context of the Guidelines ( https://www.stjornarradid.is/verkefni/atvinnuvegir/vidskipti/almenn-vidskiptamal/ ).
Business Iceland (formerly Promote Iceland), which is a public-private agency responsible for promoting Iceland’s export sectors abroad, has signed the United Nations’ Global Compact (GC) and raises awareness of corporate social responsibility in Iceland. Festa, a non-profit organization which promotes sustainable development and corporate social responsibility, has over 120 associated members, including some of Iceland’s largest companies, public organizations, universities, and municipalities ( www.samfelagsabyrgd.is/festa ). Gagnsaei, an NGO affiliated with Transparency International, is active in Iceland and is a voice against corruption ( www.transparency.is ). There is a general awareness of corporate social responsibility among producers, companies, and consumers.
There was a high-profile case in 2018 and 2019 surrounding a private employment agency which has now been declared bankrupt, that allegedly mistreated migrant Romanian workers by failing to pay salaries and provide housing as per agreement. This case caused outrage in Iceland and many union and workers’ association leaders voiced their concerns in the media and stated that mistreatment of workers would not be tolerated. The Directorate of Labor fined the company in 2019 for failing to register workers adequately.
As an OECD member state, Iceland adheres to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance recommendations to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral purchasing decisions and practices. The Icelandic economy does not have a mining industry, other than extracting rocks and gravel for construction purposes. In 2013, former Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson issued a joint statement with the other Nordic Prime Ministers to reaffirm their support to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI).
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Trafficking in Persons Report;
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities;
- U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; and;
- Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory
Department of the Treasury
Department of Labor
Iceland’s 2018 Climate Acton Plan, which was updated in 2020, is designed to achieve national climate goals of making the country carbon neutral by 2040 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 under the Paris Agreement. The MIT Technology Review’s Green Future Index ranked Iceland first out of 76 economies in 2021. The MIT report stated that Iceland has been “a global leader in geothermal energy for decades” and has constructed the world’s largest direct air capture CO2 capture and storage plant.
Isolated cases of corruption have been known to occur but are not an obstacle to foreign investment in Iceland or a recognized issue of concern in the government. In 2021 Iceland ranked 13 out of 180 economies on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Iceland has signed the UN Convention against Corruption. Iceland is a member of the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery.
The Council of Europe body Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) published its fifth evaluation report on Iceland on April 12, 2018. GRECO found that Iceland had no dedicated government-wide policy plan on anti-corruption and that its agency and institution-specific codes of conduct were not sufficiently detailed and were often implemented in an ad hoc manner. For more information, see the GRECO report ( ). The Icelandic Parliament introduced a new law in 2020 on measures against conflict of interests for ministers, assistance to ministers, director generals at ministries, and ambassadors, concerning receiving gifts, additional job positions, and supervision of the aforementioned law.
In the wake of the financial collapse in Iceland in 2008, a Code of Conduct for Staff in the Government Offices of Iceland was established in 2012, “with the purpose of promoting professional methods and of confidence in public administration.” The code of conduct addresses workplace relations and procedures; behavior and conduct; conflicts of interest and shared interests; communication with the media, public and surveillance bodies; and responsibility and monitoring for Government Offices staff. For more information see the Government of Iceland’s website ( ). The code does not extend to family members of officials or political parties.
Contact at the government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
Contact at a “watchdog” organization:
10. Political and Security Environment
Politically motivated violence in Iceland is rare, and Iceland consistently ranks among the world’s safest countries. The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicator on Political Stability and Absence of Violence placed Iceland in the top 97th percentile rank of all countries worldwide in 2020 ( ). In early 2014, frustration among voters regarding the then-governing Progressive Party-Independence Party coalition government’s withdrawal of Iceland’s accession bid to the European Union led to the largest protests since the financial collapse; these protests did not include violence. Non-violent protests led to a governmental reorganization and early elections following the 2016 “Panama Papers” scandal. A subsequent government, composed of the Independence Party, Bright Future, and the Reform Party, took office in early 2017 and collapsed within a year. The current coalition government, composed of the Independence Party, Progressive Party, and the Left-Green Movement, assumed power in November 2017 and began its second term November 28, 2021.
There have been individual cases of politically motivated vandalism of foreign holdings in recent years, directed primarily at the aluminum industry.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
The labor force in Iceland is highly skilled and educated. The labor force consisted of 208,900 people aged between 16 and 74 years old at the end of 2021 according to Statistics Iceland. Of them, 199,700 people were employed and 9,200 unemployed at the end of 2021. According to Statistics Iceland, the unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in December 2021, while the Directorate of Labor reported 4.9 percent unemployment for the same month. Foreign labor plays a large role in unskilled and semi-skilled sectors such as tourism and construction. In December 2021, 38,000 immigrants were employed in Iceland, according to Statistics Iceland. Women in Iceland are almost on par with men when it comes to labor participation, with 77.2 percent of women being active on the job market, compared to 79 percent of men, according to Statistics Iceland. The Icelandic population is highly educated, with 33.3 percent of 16-to-74-year old’s having tertiary/university education.
Icelandic Labor Laws are taken seriously in Iceland, and there are no waivers to attract or retain investment. The labor unions and Directorate of Labor conduct spot inspections on worksites to monitor legal compliance. The labor market is highly unionized, with 91.9 percent of the workforce members of trade unions in 2020, according to Statistics Iceland.
Icelandic labor unions are decentralized and not politically affiliated. Collective bargaining power, in both the public and the private sectors, rests with individual labor unions. The law does not establish a minimum wage, but the minimum wages negotiated in collective bargaining agreements apply automatically to all employees in those occupations, including foreign workers, regardless of union membership. While the agreements can be either industry-wide, sector-wide, or in some cases firm-specific, the type of position defines the negotiated wage levels. The government has sometimes imposed mandatory mediation to avert or end strikes in key economic sectors such as healthcare or fisheries.
According to collective bargaining agreements, the standard work week is 37.5 hours, or 7.5 hours a day. Employees have the right to take a 15-minute paid break within the standard workday. Lunch, either 30 or 60 minutes, is then added to the standard workday. The law requires that employers compensate work exceeding eight hours per day as overtime. Collective bargaining agreements determine the terms of overtime pay, but they do not vary significantly across unions. The law limits the total hours a worker may work, including overtime, to 48 hours a week on average during each four-month period. Typical holiday and shift-work rates are 40 percent above the standard shift rate and may be up to 45 percent more if total work hours exceed full-time employment. The law entitles workers to 11 hours of rest in each 24-hour period and one full day off each week. Under specially defined circumstances, employers may reduce the 11-hour rest period to no fewer than eight hours, but they must then compensate workers with corresponding rest time later. They may also postpone a worker’s day off, but the worker must receive the corresponding rest time within 14 days.
Outside terminating an employee, employers are by law prohibited from making unilateral amendments to hiring contracts. Companies are mandated to report mass layoffs to the Directorate of Labor. Terminated employees retain the same rights to severance benefits regardless of whether they were part of a mass layoff or fired. For further information, see the Directorate of Labor website ( ).