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Iceland leads the way on closing gender pay gap, UN experts say

GENEVA (18 January 2018) – Iceland is setting the world an example on equal pay for work of equal value which other States should follow, according to UN human rights experts.

“Iceland is spearheading the fight against gender discrimination with new legislation on equal pay certification,” said experts from the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and the Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice.

“We wholeheartedly welcome this move, which is a much-needed positive development in the global challenge of ending the gender pay gap. We encourage other States to look at the example Iceland is setting.

“Women who continue to suffer discrimination in the workplace will face a lifetime of income inequality. This is a human rights issue which affects women in all countries and must be tackled with concrete measures such as this equal pay certification,” the experts added.

The new Icelandic law requires all companies and institutions with 25 or more staff to obtain an equal pay certificate. Firms must show that they have classified jobs according to equal value and have then analysed people’s wages accordingly. The law, which took effect on 1 January 2018, also requires firms to demonstrate that they have formalized their pay policies and processes.

“This legislation shows the critical role that States can and must play in employing innovative tools to ensure that businesses respect the human rights of women,” said the experts.

“Iceland’s action is in line with its international human rights obligations and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It provides a concrete example of what can be achieved if the political will is there.

“With its new law, Iceland is showing the rest of the world the way forward on gender equality.”

Women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to global figures from the International Labour Organization and UN Women, and the gap can be much wider if multiple forms of discrimination are involved, such as race, religion, age, parental status, the burden of unpaid work, and lack of access to education.

The Working Group on Human Rights and Business is currently carrying out consultations as part of a project to develop practical guidance for both States and businesses on how to protect, and respect the rights of women at work.

The Working Group on Discrimination against Women which visited Iceland in 2013 had highlighted the persistence of gender pay gap and commended the initiative of equal pay standard certification, then optional.


The UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. Its current members are: Ms. Anita Ramasastry (current Chairperson), Mr. Michael Addo, Mr. Surya Deva, Mr. Dante Pesce (current Vice-Chairperson) and Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga.

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was established by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2010. Its current members are: Ms. Alda Facio (current chairperson), Ms. Elizabeth Broderick, Ms. Ivana RadačIć, Ms. Meskerem Geset Techane, and Ms. Melissa Upreti. Working Group’s country visit to Iceland

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent human rights monitoring mechanisms. The Working Groups report to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. The experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work

For additional information and media requests please contact:
Working Group Secretariat (+41 22 917 9323 / wg-business@ohchr.org)
Working Group on discrimination against women Secretariat (+41 22 917 9152/ wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries about other UN experts please contact:
Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 9179383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

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