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Maximising impact and protection of whistleblowers: The key role of internal reporting systems

Illustration by Sheyda Sabetian

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Whistleblowers have a key role in protecting the public, companies and institutions from undetected corruption, mismanagement and other misconduct, and their damaging consequences. They enable early detection of wrongdoing, giving organisations the opportunity to take action before a situation causes harm to the public, triggers liability or leads to serious financial losses.

An increasing number of countries now acknowledge the important role of whistleblowers and have adopted laws to protect them, including by requiring organisations to implement internal whistleblowing systems – also known as “speak up” or internal reporting mechanisms. Such systems should provide safe channels to receive reports, protect those reporting from retaliation and guide an organisation’s response.

However, while an important step, adopting new legal obligations isn’t enough. To protect whistleblowers from retaliation, and organisations and the public from corruption and misconduct, laws need to be implemented effectively by public and private organisations – as a whistleblower in Kosovo has shown.

State institutions not following the law

In September 2022, a state employee notified Transparency International Kosovo’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) that the justice institution they worked for had not appointed an official to handle internal whistleblowing reports, as required by law. Investigating further, ALAC staff soon realised that the situation extended to other justice institutions .

In response, the chapter interviewed representatives of numerous leading justice institutions at national and local levels, including the Corruption Prevention Agency, the Constitutional Court, the Chief State Prosecutor’s Office, and the Supreme Courts. The interviews confirmed the chapter’s suspicions that other justice institutions had not appointed an official responsible for handling whistleblowing cases.

Immediate impact – but institutions need to do more

Transparency International Kosovo's report sharing these revelations had an impact even before its publication. Simply by requesting interviews with institutions’ legally required whistleblowing officials, Transparency International Kosovo had prompted one court and six prosecutors’ offices to appoint such officials. Following the report’s launch many more ensued and are now actively encouraging people to report corruption. With the right support, one whistleblower’s report is generating systemic change across the justice system to safeguard citizens’ rights in Kosovo.

But there is still work to do. In interviews with 18 public officials, the chapter found that the people appointed to handle whistleblower reports were not given training for their new roles. Half indicated that whistleblowing procedures in their institutions do not allow for confidentiality in whistleblowing cases, and few have informed their staff about whistleblowing rights and procedures. As a result, not a single whistleblowing case was reported to any of Kosovo’s justice institutions in 2022. This illustrates that designating a staff member or team to handle whistleblower reports and implementing internal whistleblowing systems should not be a mere box-ticking exercise to meet legal requirements.

Best-practice guidance for internal whistleblowing systems

Experience has shown that to be effective, internal whistleblowing systems need to achieve certain standards, which often means going beyond legal requirements. To help public and private organisations implement truly effective internal whistleblowing systems, Transparency International has developed comprehensive best-practice principles. The principles draw on lessons learned from the implementation of whistleblower systems across the globe and on Transparency International’s experience working with public institutions, companies and whistleblowers. They can be used by organisations in all sectors and countries to set up and operate internal whistleblowing systems which provide safe reporting channels, protect those reporting from retaliation, and ensure the organisation acts on these reports.

By going beyond minimum legal requirements to implement best practice standards in their whistleblowing systems, organisations can benefit from powerful risk management and prevention tools that help protect them from the effects of misconduct and safeguard the public interest.

Providing safe, confidential reporting platforms

As well as providing best-practice guidelines, Transparency International is helping organisations implement effective internal whistleblowing systems in other ways. In Italy, innovative use of the GlobaLeaks digital platform to manage whistleblowers’ reports is increasing the use of safe whistleblowing channels across the country’s public and private sectors, compliant with national and European legal requirements on whistleblower and data protection. Run by Transparency International Italy and the social enterprise Whistleblowing Solutions, the Whistleblowing PA project was established initially for Italian public-sector administrations and state-owned enterprises. The platform is currently used by almost 2,000 public entities, including the Municipality of Milan, several regions, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Culture and Italy’s central broadcast company, RAI.

The platform’s popularity generated multiple requests for similar support from private organisations outside Italy’s public sector, leading Transparency International Italy and Whistleblowing Solutions to create membership services to meet the needs of private companies, along with a service that can be customised to the requirements of any individual organisation.

Our Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) are here to help. No one needs to report corruption alone. Across the world, ALACs act to ensure people reporting wrongdoing are kept safe and that their stories help bring justice. We’ll also keep on pushing for legal protection, so that whistleblowers can safely expose and help prevent corruption, ultimately building integrity across our societies.

Find your local ALAC

Extending our whistleblower support

Following the success of the Whistleblowing PA project, Transparency International is developing a toolkit for civil society organisations and national authorities, enabling them to offer both public and private organisations in their country safe digital platforms to receive and manage whistleblowing reports. We are piloting the toolkit in Slovenia, where our Chapter will launch their digital reporting platform for organisations in summer 2023. It includes features such as anonymous reporting and channels to maintain contact with anonymous whistleblowers throughout an investigation, which will help organisations meet their legal obligations whilst providing additional protections for whistleblowers.

Supporting public institutions and companies to do better is part of Transparency International’s ongoing work to support whistleblowers worldwide. We’ve celebrated World Whistleblowers Day 2023, but are still striving continually to ensure anyone wanting to report wrongdoing has strong legal protection and can speak up within a widespread culture of support. Together with our partners worldwide, we’re aiming to ensure even more whistleblowers have the backing and protection they deserve by World Whistleblowers Day 2024.

Transparency International’s global work consistently shows that people speaking up, with the right support, can successfully fight corruption and abuse. The positive change they bring creates a snowball effect, making it easier for others to speak out too. Together, we can build a future where robust whistleblowing laws are put in place and effectively implemented everywhere.

Transparency International’s best-practice principles for internal whistleblowing systems were produced under our two-year Speak Up Europe project. Launched in 2022, the project tackles corruption in high-risk areas such as public procurement by empowering individuals to report misconduct to the public, private and civil society organisations best placed to take action. It will strengthen our Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) in Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Latvia and Romania through the adoption of the GlobaLeaks secure online reporting platform and Transparency International’s case management system, enabling whistleblowers to safely and securely report to ALACs and receive reliable technical, legal and advocacy assistance. Used successfully by ALACs in over 30 countries, these platforms increase the efficiency and security of our anti-corruption casework and inform targeted advocacy through case analysis.

The Speak Up Europe project is also supporting the development of the whistleblowing platform toolkit and pilot in Slovenia, supporting civil society organisations and national authorities wanting to offer safe, online reporting platforms to public and private organisations.




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