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Building legal frameworks to protect people who reveal corruption

As countries transpose the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive into their national law, Transparency International chapters are building on broad experience in campaigning for strong whistleblower protection legislation.

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Across Europe, Transparency International (TI) chapters are working hard to ensure that when countries adopt national legislation to transpose the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive, they meet and even exceed the Directive’s requirements, closing loopholes and ensuring safe reporting. Otherwise, many European citizens wanting to expose wrongdoing will lack protection.

The chapters can draw on rich shared experience in advocating for whistleblower protection. Taking varied approaches and developing expertise, we’ve helped achieve major milestones, from new whistleblower laws to improvements in reporting channels and building public support. On the way, we’ve learned valuable lessons about good practice for improving whistleblower protection.

Ensure fit-for-purpose legislation – with public support

The starting place is ensuring the right to blow the whistle is enshrined in strong legislation – our chapters helped to achieve this goal across Europe. TI France worked closely with the government and MPs to replace the country’s piecemeal whistleblowing laws with comprehensive protection. When the government proposed a law on transparency, anti-corruption and modernisation of the economy, including whistleblower provisions, the chapter dropped its call for standalone legislation and campaigned for comprehensive protection within the government’s bill. During a long parliamentary process, it worked closely with the Fondation Sciences Citoyennes to build a wide coalition of support, including civil society, trade unions, the media and the public. Together, they ensured the inclusion and then prevented the dilution of whistleblower provisions in the bill and in 2016, France passed one of the world’s most comprehensive whistleblower protection laws.

TI Italy also seized opportunities and built alliances to drive through the country’s whistleblowing law in 2017. When populist party, the Five Star Movement, championed whistleblower protection, the chapter helped it draft a comprehensive whistleblowing bill and build political, civil society and public support for its passage. TI Italy’s ongoing advocacy finally won backing from the majority Democratic party – an unlikely ally for Five Star. When the bill stalled in the Senate, TI Italy kick-started the process, coordinating a civil society support network and running widespread media and online campaigns. Collaborating with Riparte il Futoro (now The Good Lobby), it launched a public petition, collecting more than 55,000 signatures and creating momentum for passage of the law, which was adopted in December 2017.

Develop a widespread whistleblowing culture

Developing a widespread culture of social support is crucial. Chapters use current events, such as Ireland’s policing scandal, and harness the power of human stories to influence public opinion and help sway top politicians toward legislating.

TI France and its civil society partners won public support for whistleblower legislation by highlighting experiences of individual whistleblowers such as medic Irène Frachon and accountant Antoine Deltour. People empathised with the reprisals they faced and engaged with the issues they exposed – deadly medication and corporate tax avoidance. Human stories create public pressure, which officials and lawmakers respond to as professionals and as members of society themselves.

Push for effective enforcement

But laws alone aren’t enough. They must be fully implemented and enforced if they’re to work. This is why Transparency International chapters monitor whether the authorities are overseeing proper implementation of and enforcing whistleblower laws.

Under Slovakia’s 2015 law, the country’s regional labour inspectorates were responsible for enforcement. Yet they received no additional resources or training, and showed no signs of activity around whistleblower protection. When TI Slovakia assessed the inspectorates’ capacity to enforce the law, it found serious shortcomings. Following the publication of TI Slovakia’s report, the inspectorates asked the chapter to train their staff and develop guidance for whistleblowers. TI Slovakia also started to advocate for effective oversight of whistleblower protection. In 2018, it helped secure amendments to Slovakia’s whistleblowing law, including provision for an independent authority to oversee enforcement (in force since March 2019).

Build expertise

Behind those achievements is the credibility of Transparency International chapters as whistleblower experts. Chapters work to develop a profound understanding of all aspects of reporting – through giving help to individual whistleblowers via our network of Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres, listening to pioneering organisations, and engaging with political, corporate and institutional opponents of whistleblowing to understand and address their concerns.

Securing laws and enforcing them are the foundation-stones of strong whistleblower protection – but they’re only part of the picture. Find out how our chapters work innovatively to facilitate implementation and change business practices to protect people with the courage to speak up.