Already this year, there have been no shortage of reminders that the greatest challenges of our time cannot be solved unless wrongdoing is called out and the truth exposed. The world is facing the combined threats of a global pandemic, global heating, and deep structural inequalities made worse by entrenched corruption.
Often, the illegal acts that exacerbate these crises are only brought to light by individuals who blow the whistle on the wrongdoing they encounter in their daily lives.
In this way, whistleblowers have saved countless lives and billions in public finances. Yet all too often, they face retaliation from their employers, leading to dismissal, as well as legal challenges, attacks on their reputation and even physical harm.
This World Whistleblowing Day, 23 June 2020, we celebrate the people who have come forward to speak out against fraud, abuse and corruption. By telling just a few of their stories and highlighting the progress made so far, we want to show that in 2020, there can be no excuse for leaving whistleblowers unprotected.
It is time for everyone, from citizens to heads of government to business leaders, to recognise the importance of whistleblowers for the good of society, and make sure they are protected. This often means a change in the law, but also in the culture of governments, businesses and all organisations.
Saving the environment
The climate crisis poses a catastrophic threat to the long-term prosperity and peace of our planet. To tackle the crisis, governments and international organisations have pledged billions in climate change mitigation and adaptation funds. There have also been much-needed rules and regulations to reduce carbon emissions and environmental damage.
But, what happens when companies break these rules, or when corrupt politicians steal funds meant for tackling the climate crisis?
Whistleblowers have been critical in bringing to light environmental damage and corruption in the allocation of these vital resources.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown that during a public health emergency, it is essential that governments give the public clear, accurate and up-to-date information about the dangers we face, and the measures that should be taken to protect ourselves.
In both the United States and China, however, whistleblowers have been sidelined for speaking out about how the crisis was handled.
Even under normal circumstances whistleblowers in the medical sector save lives and help stop corruption from weakening health systems.
Saving public funds
Public-sector corruption robs all of us of a sustainable future. None of the Sustainable Development Goals that governments have set to achieve by 2030, whether to end poverty and hunger or build sustainable cities, can be achieved unless corruption is stamped out.
When corrupt politicians abuse the funds at their disposal, it is often whistleblowers who speak up, saving funds and leading to better protection for taxpayers’ money.
Plenty of businesses seem to think that silencing employees who speak up against wrongdoing will save them money: there are far too many stories of people being fired, sued or otherwise mistreated by their employer after bringing problems to light.
In fact, the opposite is clearly true. When employees feel safe to report problems internally, knowing that corrective action will be taken and they will not face negative consequences, companies can avoid costly fines and enormous damage to their brands.
Whistleblowers are more likely to speak up if they know they will be protected from retaliation.
By now, the why of whistleblower protection is obvious, but what about the how?
This problem, too, has largely been solved. In the EU, a Directive for the Protection of Whistleblowers was adopted last year, incorporating many of Transparency International’s principles and recommendations for effective whistleblower protection. This text gives lawmakers a strong basis for creating laws that protect the widest definition of whistleblower possible.
Nonetheless, the Directive is not perfect, and it is up to EU Member States to go further as they transpose the directive into national law.
How to help
There are some ways we can all support whistleblowers.
...to organizations that help them with legal, financial, media and social support
Share their concerns
...and help keep the focus on the revelations, not on the whistleblower or their personal life.
...whether in the streets or on social media, so they know they are not alone.
Many of us can also lobby our employers to set up accessible and confidential reporting channels and effectively protect those who speak up from retaliation. Together, we can help create a culture in our places of work that supports whistleblowers and protects their right to confidentiality.
At the 19th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Copenhagen in 2018, Films for Transparency screened Crime + Punishment, a documentary that follows fearless Black and Latino active duty officers in the New York Police Department who risked their careers and safety to expose the continued use of outlawed quotas
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