Article by Werner Bouwer, in collaboration with Brendan Grealy and Michelle Perrow
When I presented my first awareness training session 15 years ago to a listed company’s staff, and the employees started explaining why they didn’t feel comfortable using their (totally anonymous) hotlines to report fraud, I was stunned. At the time, these seemed like excuses from employees for not buying into anonymous reporting facilities.
But as the years progressed and my experience dealing with ‘would-be whistle-blowers’ deepened, I realised whistle-blowers need to trust the idea and legitimacy behind reporting facilities.
It does not help repeating that anonymity makes hotlines ‘fool-proof’ against victimisation. Because the concern of victimisation, which is a form of abuse of power, is real. Too much airtime and publicity are given to this abuse of power – which is unfortunately pervasive in our democracy.
Legitimate employee concerns get buried under fear. And fear becomes an ‘all too easy excuse’ to bypass the reporting duty and look the other way, which means nothing gets done.
And so, the rot of corruption festers. A snowball effect.
There are too many wrongs in the picture above.
But heroes can rise to the surface. Reports can be made, and investigations launched. Sadly, the more powerful the suspect, the longer it takes. The whistle-blower can still be victimised and sometimes publicly denigrated. Abraham Lincoln was right when he said if you want to test a person’s character, you should give the person power.
But eventually, the power imbalance can be restored. The whistle-blower vindicated. This can, however, come at a high price for the whistle-blower with much personal sacrifice.
Since that first awareness training session 15 years ago I’ve shared lecture and meeting rooms with many employees as part of whistleblowing awareness campaigns, from juniors all the way to management. I have read many policies relating to whistleblowing and ethics. Some employers have the genuine intention to make a difference. Others implement these campaigns as knee-jerk reactions – a ‘paper’ compliance programme – to ‘tick the right box’.
Too often, awareness campaigns are limited to a ‘you have a duty to report, here is the number, and it will be anonymous; so, do not fear’.
On too few occasions, there was content communicated as ‘occupational detriment’, what it meant and its legal implications. Sadly, the response often received when using this term in the workplace is deafening silence, question marks on faces and a lack of understanding. All this despite the term coming from our own legislation which is some 21 years old.
But what would happen if the employer, as part of their awareness campaign and communication plan, not only shared the hotline number and reporting mechanisms, automatically guaranteed anonymity, and a safe space for reporting, and reminded employees of their reporting duty on top of the following:
- Describing in layman’s terms how whistleblowing protection for employees works
- Equipping employees with the right knowledge and resources to gain confidence in reporting wrongdoing
- Providing access to whistleblowing courts cases – bringing the action and results of whistleblowing to life which shows there can be success when rights are exercised
- Providing information on regulatory compliance for employers, ensuring they provide a safe space for all would-be whistleblowers
Would this knowledge and these resources not remove the barriers preventing reporting? Would they not build confidence in potential whistle-blowers? I believe they would.
The Whistleblowing Without Fear app provides all the above and more, and it does it all for free. It is not only an informational guide for employees, but also provides compliance parameters for employers at no cost.
The app was created by individuals with proven experience in ethics consulting, fraud and corruption risk management, law enforcement and communications, and a passion for justice. Three companies (Lesoba Difference, Nexus Integrity and Compliance Solutions and Corrie Campbell Corporate Communications) partnered to create the Whistleblowing Without Fear app.