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Strengthening and fostering enabling environment for whistleblowers in the European Union (SAFE for Whistleblowers)

Photo: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

What's at stake?

Whistleblowers are important players in national and European efforts to detect, investigate and address corruption. Their disclosures have exposed wrongdoings in public and private organisations, enhancing transparency and accountability and ensuring national and EU public funds can go where they should. Whistleblowers, by exercising their freedom of speech protected under Article 11 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, help enforce both national and EU laws.

If more individuals stepped forward to report problems to their organisations and authorities, or in certain situations, made public disclosures, many more instances of misconduct could be prevented or consequences mitigated. The three main reasons people give for not reporting corruption are:

1. The fear of negative consequences (legal, financial, reputational)

2. The belief that nothing will be done and their actions will not make a difference

3. The uncertainty about how, where and to whom to report corruption (TI Global Corruption Barometer).

Protecting whistleblowers from retaliation and providing accessible and reliable reporting channels where reports received are taken seriously and acted upon, together with a more positive social perception of whistleblowers, can encourage people to report wrongdoing and increase the likelihood that wrongdoing is uncovered and penalised.

The EU Directive 1937/2019, on the protection of persons reporting breaches of Union law, also known as the Whistleblowing Directive, provides a strong foundation to achieve uniform and robust whistleblower protection across the EU. Despite many delays, almost all the EU member states have passed laws to transpose the Directive into their national law. However, legislation is only the first step – for laws to be effective, they need to be adequately implemented. Stakeholders with a critical role in implementation, such as public and private entities, civil society organisations, trade unions, competent authorities, judges and journalists, need to play their part and need stronger capacity to do so. Potential whistleblowers and the general public need to know about the existing reporting channels and procedures and the rights provided under the Whistleblowing Directive and overcome their negative perception of whistleblowing.

What we're doing about it

Funded by the European Union and implemented by Transparency International and our National chapters and partners, SAFE for Whistleblowers aims to support the establishment of an enabling environment for the protection of whistleblowers in the European Union, with a focus on the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia. To achieve this, we will work with all key stakeholders to tackle the barriers to creating such an environment, – including:

  • People’s lack of awareness and trust in reporting channels and whistleblower protection
  • Civil society’s lack of knowledge about their role in protecting and empowering whistleblowers
  • The lack of knowledge and capacity of public and private organisations to correctly follow the rules that apply to them
  • The lack of knowledge and capacity of competent authorities and judges to coherently implement and enforce whistleblower protection laws
  • The lack of available data to assess the effectiveness of whistleblowing laws, and
  • The risks of incoherence in implementation of whistleblower protection laws across these different groups and across EU countries.

SAFE for Whistleblowers keys objectives are:

  • To increase the knowledge of the general public, (potential) whistleblowers, CSOs, trade unions and journalists about whistleblowing and protection frameworks.
  • To improve the implementation of whistleblowing laws at the workplace.
  • To improve the implementation and enforcement of whistleblowing laws by national authorities.
  • To improve the availability of gender-disaggregated data on whistleblowers’ reports and caselaw.
  • To improve the effectiveness and coherence of the EU Whistleblowing Directive’s implementation

We will pay particular attention to the situation of women and other groups at risk of discrimination. The power imbalance between whistleblowers and those who might seek to quiet them is already an issue, and the intersection with unequal power relations and other inequalities experienced by women and other vulnerable workers such as LGBT+, migrants, temporary and low-paid workers needs to be further explored and better taken into account by all the stakeholders involved in the implementation of whistleblowing legislation.

Our approach

Building on the results of past activities, synergies with other projects and innovative aspects in the field of whistleblower protection, we are taking a holistic approach to foster an enabling environment for whistleblowers by:

  • Raising awareness on whistleblower protection laws and promoting the value of whistleblowing to safeguard the public interest by reaching out to the general public, potential whistleblowers and employers and by gaining the contribution of CSOs, trade unions and journalists.
  • Conducting national assessments of organisations’ internal whistleblowing systems (IWS) to identify capacity building needs.
  • Building knowledge and capacity of public and private organisations, including CSOs to improve their own internal whistleblowing systems (IWS) through the development of guidelines, self-assessment questionnaires and e-learning tools, and the organisation of training, seminars and workshops that are tailored to stakeholders needs.
  • Fostering mutual learning and exchange of good practices at the national and European level within as well as across stakeholders' groups (including the general public, potential whistleblowers, public and private organisations, judges, trade unions, journalists), with a special emphasis on national authorities and CSOs, to identify common challenges and best practices, cross-cutting issues and building consensus on policy recommendations to improve implementation of whistleblowing laws and the Directive.
  • Collecting and analysing data to develop technical benchmarks and gender-sensitive indicators to assess the effectiveness of whistleblower protection framework and gain new insights and track trends.
  • Piloting jurisprudence databases in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia to monitor and making publicly available decisions on whistleblower protection by the relevant authorities (whistleblowing authorities, prosecutors and courts).
  • Collaboratively gathering and centralising relevant information and resources regarding the Directive transposition, implementation and effectiveness in the 27 EU Member states on the EU Whistleblowing Monitor.
  • Mainstreaming gender and diversity to improve understanding of the linkages between gender, diversity and whistleblowing and to promote the representation of women and groups at risk of discrimination in internal and external whistleblowing systems.