The evolution of whistleblowing: Empowering voices, ensuring integrity!

October 13, 2023
The evolution of whistleblowing

In 1863, the trailblazing False Claims Act was passed, which empowered citizens to challenge government-harming firms by blowing the whistle when misconduct was found. This led to a robust framework, encompassing state and federal laws, that safeguarded whistleblowers nationwide. Fast forward to 2002 when the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) broadened the shield of the False Claims act, ensuring anonymous reporting of suspicions and endorsing internal channels.

Across the Atlantic, European firms followed suit, captivated by the whistleblower wave. Echoing across industries, this trend underscores their dedication to integrity.

While these laws, and the EU Whistleblowing Directive, have made it easier for whistleblowers to come forward by signing protections into law, some people are still hesitant to come forward when they witness misconduct. At SpeakUp, we are intrigued with this ‘whistleblower dilemma’. What makes it so difficult to speak up? What could employees, organisations and society gain if more people felt free to come forward against misconduct? What can we do to bridge the gap between hidden information and information known by those who can affect change?

What is the definition of whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing refers to the act of an individual exposing or reporting information about illegal or unethical activities within an organisation or institution. Whistleblowers are typically employees or insiders who witness wrongdoing such as fraud, corruption, safety violations, or other misconduct.

In what situations should someone blow the whistle?

Whistleblowers play a crucial role in promoting transparency, accountability, and integrity. While laws and regulations vary from one jurisdiction to another, the types of issues on which anyone should consider blowing the whistle generally include:

  1. Reporting fraud: Any evidence of financial fraud, embezzlement, or misrepresentation of financial statements should be reported.
  2. Reporting Corruption: Whistleblowers should report any form of bribery, kickbacks, or other corrupt practices that undermine fair competition, or the misuse of public funds.
  3. Reporting safety violations: Concerns about unsafe working conditions, hazardous products, or practices that endanger public health and safety should be brought to light.
  4. Reporting environmental violations: Any activities that cause significant harm to the environment, such as illegal dumping of hazardous waste or pollution, should be reported.
  5. Reporting discrimination and harassment: Whistleblowers should speak out against any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation against employees based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristics.
  6. Reporting misconduct by public officials: If public officials are engaged in unethical or illegal behavior, it should be reported to protect the public interest.
  7. Reporting violations of laws and regulations: Any breaches of laws, regulations, or internal policies that may cause harm or undermine ethical standards should be brought to attention.
  8. Reporting abuses of power: Whistleblowers should report instances where individuals in authority misuse their power or engage in unethical conduct.
  9. Reporting health and safety concerns: Issues related to public health, patient safety, or product safety should be reported.
  10. Reporting government and corporate cover-ups: If there is evidence of an attempt to hide or suppress information about any significant wrongdoing, it should be exposed.

It’s essential to note that each jurisdiction may have its own specific laws and protections for whistleblowers, and potential whistleblowers should seek legal advice and protections before coming forward. Additionally, many organisations have established internal channels for reporting concerns, and employees are encouraged to use these channels whenever possible.

What is whistleblowing software?

Whistleblowing software, also known as anonymous reporting software or ethics reporting software, is a specialised tool or platform designed to facilitate the reporting and management of whistleblowing cases within organisations. It provides a secure and confidential channel for individuals to report instances of misconduct, fraud, or unethical behaviour.

Why should organisations implement a whistleblowing system?

Making sure that your organisation is compliant with existing laws and offering the correct anonymous reporting options for employees and insiders to report misconduct can be difficult. In addition, managing cases properly is of the utmost importance—failure to do so can lead to heavy fines and damage to your organisation’s reputation. Our SpeakUp® software solution provides organisations with the tools necessary to create an environment in which speaking up about wrongdoings is encouraged, and anonymous voices from within the organisation can be heard.

What is the risk of not having a whistleblowing tool?

Not having a whistleblowing tool in place can pose several risks to an organisation. Whistleblowing tools are essential mechanisms that allow employees, customers, or other stakeholders to report misconduct, unethical behaviour, or any violations within the company.

Without such a tool, the following risks may arise: Undetected misconduct, lack of transparency, negative work culture, or reputation damage.

A well-implemented whistleblowing tool promotes a culture of ethics, transparency, and accountability within an organisation, reducing the risk of financial losses, legal repercussions, and reputational harm. It encourages employees and stakeholders to come forward with their concerns, enabling early detection and resolution of potential problems.

Additionally, not everyone who sees undesired behaviour thinks to make a report. That’s because they might not know the right protocol, or because they’re not even sure if what they’ve seen is a violation of the organisation’s Code of Conduct. Making clear to your employees that they can also use a communication tool such as SpeakUp® by asking a question. We see that serious cases sometimes start by a question from an employee. SpeakUp is there to start and facilitate an (anonymous) dialogue.

Why should you choose the SpeakUp® whistleblowing system?

The SpeakUp® communication tool helps your organisation detect internal wrongdoings early. Be in the know. Take action. Avoid things getting out of hand. People fear retribution. They are scared away by complex compliance box ticking. To lower thresholds, we’ve developed a fully anonymous and user-friendly way to report wrongdoings.

The terminology we use to help you define your ‘whistleblowing’ policy with SpeakUp®?

  1. The whistleblower
    We recommend not calling someone a whistleblower if they want to raise a concern. Whistleblowing has a negative connotation within our society. No one likes to be named a whistleblower. Calling a reporter a whistleblower within policies might create fear of retaliation. People are afraid of being called a snitch, or that it requires a great amount heroism to speak up. These things can lead to no one wanting to make a report. Use other terms to make your employees feel safe to raise a concern.
  2. Hotline
    We  avoid the term ”hotline” within the SpeakUp® platform. Our system is built to ensure the barrier between silence and reporting is set as low as possible. That’s why we avoid phone hotlines—a reporter doesn’t want to be confronted with someone, maybe in a language their unfamiliar with, asking uncomfortable and possibly confrontational questions. When someone makes a call within the SpeakUp® platform, they’re directed to an automated voice mail that allows them to leave their concern anonymously, and in their own words.
  3. Reporting Tool
    The word ‘reporting tool’ doesn’t reflect what actually happens when you create a dialogue with someone—exactly what SpeakUp® is here to do. Calling your reporting protocol simply a tool suggest that the report will drop off a message, and no one will be there to guide them the rest of the way. That’s why we frame SpeakUp as a ‘communication tool’ rather than a ‘reporting tool’ to make sure your employees feel safe voice their concerns they can also expect a follow up to start the dialogue.
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