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Helping whistleblower laws deliver the protection they promise

Once whistleblower laws are in place, Transparency International chapters work with a range of organisations, use digital tools and drive cultural change to ensure comprehensive protection of people who report wrongdoing.

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European Union members must adopt the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive into national law by 2021. While that’s good news for Europe’s people, Transparency International (TI) chapters know from long experience that strong laws alone can’t guarantee comprehensive whistleblower protection. To drive implementation, understanding and widespread support for whistleblowing also needed to protect people who report wrongdoing, our chapters have developed several effective approaches.

Once strong legal frameworks are established, many Transparency International chapters have shown the value of working with partners in both the private and public sectors.

Help organisations develop a whistleblowing culture

TI Ireland is helping organisations meet their legal obligations through Integrity at Work, an initiative launched in 2016 providing member organisations from the public, private and charity sectors with training, guidance, online resources and peer-to-peer learning on effective whistleblower protection. With 28 members as of 2020 – including Ireland’s education department, police force and revenue office – the initiative is driving cultural change supportive of whistleblowers in Irish public life.

TI Slovakia has nurtured institutional whistleblower role-models. When its research showed that whistleblower mechanisms in public institutions were ineffective, the chapter began a pilot project with Bratislava Self-Governing Region and Slovakia’s Environment Ministry. Through analysis of internal policies, bespoke staff training – including top management – and a whistleblowing conference, the chapter raised employee awareness of whistleblowing, strengthened reporting channels and introduced a culture supportive of “speaking up”. Both organisations revised their codes of conduct in response, and the Bratislavan authorities presented their experience with the pilot programme at the conference. This helped prompt 27 of the 70 participating organisations to adopt whistleblower programmes.

Working with champions can create momentum towards a tipping point where whistleblowing becomes widely supported across a sector or society. Although Estonian law provides for private-sector whistleblower protection, many companies lack effective whistleblowing channels. TI Estonia engaged directly with 10 pioneering companies through a series of workshops covering international whistleblowing best practice.

This established strong ongoing relationships between TI Estonia and participating companies, two of which joined the chapter’s Fair Business Network – deepening their commitment to business integrity and helping spread a wider corporate culture of whistleblowing.

Use digital tools to extend reach

A single chapter can’t work with every company and institution needed to arrive at the tipping point, but several have developed innovative ways to reach many more organisations than they can work with in person. With over 800 visits during its first year, TI Estonia’s online toolkit on establishing internal whistleblowing mechanisms is one of its most popular webpages.

TI Italy helps public-sector institutions meet their legal obligation to provide a secure, encrypted platform for reporting. When technology companies started selling expensive platforms, swallowing public money and often not meeting legal requirements, the chapter partnered with the Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights to develop a secure, encrypted reporting platform. Launched in 2018, Whistleblowing PA is available free-of-charge to public institutions. By mid-2020, 750 organisations had adopted the platform, largely through word-of-mouth recommendation. It includes an integrated e-learning course to broaden understanding of whistleblowing among public employees, gaining 150 institutional users by 2020 and extending the chapter’s audience far beyond its face-to-face capacity.

Stimulate improvement with research

Many chapters also increase their influence through research. TI Netherlands carried out major surveys of leading companies’ whistleblower mechanisms in 2017 and 2019, ranking companies to stimulate improvement. Such research also reveals key trends, showing where improvement is most needed – in the Dutch case, around corporate whistleblowing culture.

Experience shows there will still be much work to do once EU countries adopt the Whistleblower Protection Directive into law. Transparency International chapters will build critical alliances with civil society, politicians, business, trade unions and the media, to ensure the new laws are widely understood, fully implemented and backed by a broad culture of support. Only then will Europeans enjoy truly effective whistleblower protection.