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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:
- fear of the consequences (legal, financial, reputational)
- the belief that nothing will be done, that it will not make any difference
- 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
- advocating for the adoption of robust and comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation
- advocating for the effective enforcement of whistleblower protection legislation by the responsible authorities
- working with public institutions and private companies so that whistleblower protection legislation is effectively implemented in the work place
- 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 Protection Directive in October 2019. Working with a broad coalition of civil society organisations, trade unions and journalist associations, we put the issue on the EU agenda and advocated every step of the way to make sure that an EU wide legislation was adopted – one that it is in line with best practice.
We welcomed the EU Commission’s proposal in April 2018, providing recommendations for amendments to strengthen it. The position adopted by the EU Parliament in November 2018 incorporated many of our main policy recommendations and we supported it throughout the negotiations with the EU Council. The result is a path-breaking piece of legislation that will help protect whistleblowers around Europe. It is the first time that the EU has dedicated legislation in this area. The crucial role played by CSOs in achieving an agreement on a strong text was recognized by the Members of Parliament leading the process.
The Directive came into force in December 2019 and Member States have two years to transpose it into national law.
Find out more about our work
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To support effective implementation of the EU's Whistleblower Protection Directive, we have prepared this analysis, which provides recommendations aimed at closing loopholes and…
Whistleblowers play an essential role in exposing corruption and other wrongdoing that threaten the public interest. Protecting whistleblowers from unfair treatment, including…
We've developed the Best Practice Guide for Whistleblowing Legislation for policy-makers and whistleblowing advocates on how to implement its International Principles for…
The Business Case for 'Speaking Up': how Internal Reporting Mechanisms Strengthen Private-Sector Organisations
The business case for companies to adopt robust internal reporting mechanisms is clear. Such mechanisms enable staff to speak up about legal or ethical misconduct.
Features our work to improve whistleblower’s protection, including our policy recommendations and our achievements in around the world.
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