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Whistleblowing

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What is a whistleblower?

A whistleblower discloses information about corruption or other wrongdoing being committed in or by an organisation to individuals or entities believed to be able to effect action – the organisation itself, the relevant authorities, or the public.

How does whistleblowing affect you?

Whistleblowing is one of the most effective ways to detect and prevent corruption and other malpractice. Whistleblowers’ disclosures have exposed wrongdoing and fraud, helped save millions in public funds, avoid disasters for health, the environment. Whistleblower’s important role in safe guarding the public good is repeatedly proved by the scandals they uncover, such as industry-scale tax avoidance (LuxLeaks and Panama Papers), and money laundering (Danske Bank scandal).

However, many more cases of wrongdoing could have been prevented if more people had come forward to expose problems to their organisations, the authorities or the media. Unfortunately, reporting often comes at a high price: whistleblowers risk their career, their livelihood and sometimes their personal safety to expose wrongdoing that threatens the public interest. They may be fired, sued, blacklisted, arrested, threatened or, in extreme cases, assaulted or killed. And in some societies, whistleblowing carries connotations of betrayal rather than being seen as a benefit to the public.

Ultimately, societies, institutions and citizens lose out when there is no one willing to cry foul in the face of corruption.

What needs to be done?

The three main reasons people give for not reporting corruption are:

  1. fear of the consequences (legal, financial, reputational)
  2. the belief that nothing will be done, that it will not make any difference
  3. uncertainty about how, where and to whom to report

Protecting whistleblowers from unfair treatment, including retaliation, discrimination or disadvantage, can embolden people to report wrongdoing and increase the likelihood that wrongdoing is uncovered and penalised. Companies, public bodies and non-profit organisations should introduce mechanisms for internal reporting.

What we’re doing about it

Transparency International would like to see more people speaking up against corruption and other wrongdoings, ultimately reducing misconduct. A protective environment for whistleblowers is crucial to allow them to report instances of malpractice without having to face the dilemma of doing the right thing and risking one’s career and livelihood or remaining silent, at the expense of the public good.

To make this happen, Transparency International is

  1. advocating for the adoption of robust and comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation
  2. advocating for the effective enforcement of whistleblower protection legislation by the responsible authorities
  3. working with public institutions and private companies so that whistleblower protection legislation is effectively implanted in the work place
  4. Supporting and advising individuals who are considering or have already blown the whistle, through our Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres

The European Union adopts dedicated whistleblower legislation

One example of successful advocacy has been the adoption by the European Union of a Whistleblower Directive. We worked with a broad coalition of civil society organisations, trade unions and journalist associations, advocating for a comprehensive whistleblower directive for many years. We welcomed the Commission’s proposal in April 2018 and supported the strong Parliament report in November 2018, which incorporated many of our main policy recommendations.

In March 2019, the European Parliament and EU Council agreed a pathbreaking piece of legislation that will help protect whistleblowers around Europe. The political agreement is the first time that the EU will have dedicated legislation in this area. It came into force in October 2019 and Member States have two years to transpose the directive into national law.

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