Whistleblowers play a crucial role in the fight for a fairer world. On World Whistleblowers Day, 23 June, we honour the courage and determination of people worldwide who speak up against wrongdoing and celebrate the positive changes they bring. However, this is also a day to acknowledge the challenges they often face and the protection they need to speak up. Transparency International is continuously striving to provide this support to whistleblowers so they can continue to use their voices for justice.
Whistleblowers like the ones in these 12 inspiring stories from around the world have helped safeguard public funds, defend the environment and protect public health – but their journeys have often been tough. Without proper protection, whistleblowers can face personal, professional and legal attacks for speaking up – including dismissal, demotion and prosecution – harming their mental or physical wellbeing. People can be deterred from coming forward if the risks of reporting seem too great, or if they fear they won’t be taken seriously. For example, Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer – European Union shows that only 47 per cent of people in the EU feel they can safely report corruption, and 45 per cent fear reprisals. Women are less likely than men to believe they can safely report corruption or to think that citizens can make a difference against corruption.
This means wrongdoing can remain undetected.
Regardless, every year, whistleblowers worldwide do speak out and safeguard the public interest. In 2022, Transparency International Pakistan’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) received a whistleblower complaint highlighting official collusion with two private oil companies, costing the state 1.13 billion rupees (US$3.9 million) in unpaid royalties. Protecting the whistleblower’s identity, the chapter wrote to the Prime Minister asking regulators to investigate. The Office of the Prime Minister issued instructions for recovery of the royalties. The Treasury received payment from both companies in February 2023, – providing vital resources for the people of Pakistan.
Ensuring countries fulfil their commitments
Robust whistleblower protection laws and public scrutiny are essential to safeguard citizens and institutions from corruption. Many cases can be prevented or exposed if people are empowered to come forward and report them to their employer, the authorities or civil society. From helping shape international standards and national laws to providing support in individual cases, Transparency International is working to ensure victims and witnesses of corruption have access to safe, effective mechanisms to report wrongdoing and achieve redress, within a culture of public support.
Since 2019, we have been advocating for European Union (EU) member states to transpose the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive into national law. Yet only five member states had adopted national laws by the deadline for transposition and two and a half years later, two countries have still not. We are keeping up the pressure and are now monitoring and supporting implementation by stakeholders to ensure all whistleblowers are effectively protected.
EU Whistleblowing Directive transposition: Status as of June 2023
Creating tools for whistleblower protection
Adopting laws is only the first step to achieving whistleblower protection. Employers also need to set up internal whistleblowing systems which provide safe reporting channels, protect those reporting concerns from retaliation and ensure the organisation acts on these reports. These systems are powerful risk management and prevention tools that help safeguard the public interest and protect organisations from the effects of misconduct.
To help public and private organisations implement effective internal whistleblowing systems – and fulfil their obligations under the EU directive – Transparency International has developed best-practice principles. These can be used by organisations in all sectors and countries to design and operate whistleblowing mechanisms that effectively prevent, detect and address corruption and other wrongdoing.
Fighting corruption case by case
Together, ALACs across Transparency International’s worldwide network have received reports from more than 320,000 people, including whistleblowers. We provide them with reliable legal advice and support, both before they blow the whistle, to reduce personal risks and improve the chances of success, and afterwards, to address retaliation or inaction.
With this support, people around the world have achieved significant change, locally or at systemic levels, reaffirming that every individual can make a difference in the fight against corruption. In Kosovo, a whistleblower has even helped improve reporting mechanisms for other whistleblowers.
In 2022, he notified our local ALAC that the institution he worked for in the justice sector had not appointed an official to handle internal whistleblowing cases, as required by law. After investigating, the chapter published a report revealing similar failings across the justice sector. In response, many institutions appointed a whistleblowing official and are encouraging people to report corruption.
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.
Building consistent solidarity
As well as supporting individual whistleblower cases and strengthening legal and institutional frameworks, Transparency International is building public support for speaking up against wrongdoing. Although whistleblowers often risk their livelihoods, or sometimes their lives, to expose corruption, they are viewed with suspicion in many places. We work globally to dispel the negative perceptions surrounding whistleblowers and to raise awareness about their vital role in fighting for a fairer society.
On World Whistleblowers Day, we celebrate their achievements in stepping forward and speaking up. But our work extends far beyond today. By promoting a widespread culture of support for whistleblowers and their vital role, we’re working to make every day a day of empathy and solidarity for whistleblowers worldwide.
These cases show that people speaking up, with the right support, can help fight corruption and mitigate repercussions from administrative misconduct and abuse of power. The positive change they can bring creates a snowball effect, making it easier for others to speak up as well. Together, we can build a future where safe and robust whistleblowing laws are put in place and effectively implemented everywhere.
Until then, Transparency International’s 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 will also keep pushing for legal protection, so that whistleblowers can safely expose and help prevent corruption, ultimately building integrity across our societies.
Join us on World Whistleblowers Day, 23 June, to celebrate the people who bravely speak up against wrongdoing and give special recognition to the crucial role they play in the fight for a corruption-free world.
Transparency International’s European ALACs are supported by Speak Up Europe, an EU-funded project aiming to prevent corruption in high-risk areas in the EU by empowering individuals to speak up about misconduct to public, private and civil society organisations that can take action.
Find out more about our meaningful work on strengthening democracy, rights and equality by tackling corruption.
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