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World Whistleblowers Day 2021: Speaking up against corruption is crucial for a just world, and we’re here to help

Woman activist walking down the street and blowing a whistle, with people in the background wearing medical masks

Photo by LordHenriVoton on iStock

World Whistleblowers Day on 23 June is an occasion for us to celebrate the courageous individuals who come forward to report corruption, and to share some of the ways we’re helping them achieve justice.

Whistleblowing is one of the most effective ways to detect and prevent corruption and other malpractice. The vital importance of whistleblowers for our societies is regularly illustrated by the scandals they uncover – and the lasting change they help bring.

Challenging injustice at the highest level

In the Maldives, Gasim Abdul Kareem was arrested in 2016 for leaking bank statements that exposed a massive government-linked corruption scheme. His voice contributed to the authoritarian president, Abdulla Yameen, being voted out of office in 2018. The country, however, had no whistleblower protection law and Gasim was prosecuted.

Transparency International Maldives, through its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC), defended him in court and built widespread support for his case. Unjustly, Gasim was convicted, but the lenient sentence meant that he didn’t have to serve further jail time.

When the new government came into power, Transparency International Maldives had a draft whistleblower bill ready for lawmakers. It was passed by parliament in 2019 to guarantee protection for all Maldivian people who expose corruption in the workplace.

Transparency International and our chapters run over 100 ALAC offices across 62 countries worldwide, to help ensure people who report corruption and misconduct, including whistleblowers, are protected, not persecuted. The ALACs provide free, confidential advice on how witnesses or victims of corruption can stay safe while speaking out.

Find your local ALAC

Speaking out to defend against COVID-19

Just in the first six months of the pandemic, more than 1,800 people contacted Transparency International’s ALACs in 60 countries to report corruption and seek assistance for issues related to COVID-19.

Cases reported to our ALACs show how corruption undermines health care systems and reduces people’s access to treatment and personal protective equipment, while unscrupulous networks profit from government contracts and unlawful sales of medical supplies.

Health care workers complain regularly to our ALACs about unsafe working conditions. In July 2020, José (name has been changed), a doctor at a public hospital in Venezuela, contacted Transparency International Venezuela’s ALAC when the risks of his work became too great. His bravery has the potential to improve the lives of medical staff throughout Venezuela – ALAC staff presented the safety risks in hospitals to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

In a year like 2021, there is no doubt that corruption costs lives and threatens livelihoods. But by blowing the whistle, people who witness wrongdoing can help protect lives, public finances and the planet.

Yet too often, people are not empowered to speak up, and when they do, they often face retaliation. Without strong legal protection and support to safely speak up, whistleblowers and their families can experience personal, professional or legal attacks, harming their mental and even physical well-being. No one should suffer this way.

The international community increasingly recognises whistleblowers’ vital role in helping build fair, equitable societies but, in many places, urgent action to protect them is still needed.

For example, the European Union (EU) passed the landmark Whistleblower Protection Directive two years ago to ensure that its residents can expose abuses safely. The deadline for each EU country to create national legislation to comply with the Directive is fast approaching; yet none of the 27 countries have done so yet, while 14 member states have so far made minimal or no progress at all in implementing the Directive.

EU Whistleblowing Directive transposition: Status as of June 2021

Perhaps it’s unsurprising then that opinions across the EU are divided when it comes to the safety of reporting corruption. Released last week, Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer – EU showed about half of people think they will suffer retaliation if they report corruption.

It’s now urgent that countries in the EU and elsewhere adopt national whistleblowing laws that provide strong protection for anyone speaking up in the public interest. The resulting protection should meet the highest possible standards – for example, by ensuring gender-sensitive reporting mechanisms and Transparency International’s recommendations for effective whistleblower protection legislation – and cover breaches of national law.

Whistleblowers are not alone

Until robust whistleblowing laws are put in place and are implemented everywhere, Transparency International’s ALACs are here to help. No one needs to report corruption alone. We’ll 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.

Thinking about blowing the whistle on wrongdoing you have witnessed?

Please consider that whistleblower protections – where they exist – apply only in certain circumstances. Our ALACs provide free and confidential legal advice and support to witnesses and victims of corruption, including those who have not yet spoken up.

With more than 100 offices in more than 60 countries, ALACs provide an accessible, effective way for people to report corrupt and demand action.

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