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Compliance and the 'Whistleblower' Policy

3 months ago by Ian Ross
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​Whistleblower: ‘a person who makes public disclosure of corruption or other wrongdoing’

In my experience of investigating crime, I have encountered varying attitudes to witnesses (which to all intents and purposes is what a 'whistleblower' is)

If a criminal commits a crime under the very eyes of one who is sure to report it, then why is that witness any different to a 'whistleblower? Why a witness to a criminal case suddenly gets channeled into some 'whistleblower category' and with that, the hurdles and legally-manipulated and tactical humiliation of a bona-fide witness. One who suddenly underwent an involuntary status transformation imposed by management and now labelled 'whistleblower.'

Following this accepted in the main definition, my point is that I have seen many emerging jargonisitc labels appear in crime, just like 'money laundering' starting in the Al Capone era (even though money laundering was happening in mediaeval England. Hence new name, new trend and new paradigm. This one however for the whistleblower, has stuck - but not for the good. Its meaning and even definition has spilled over into a quandary of mis-understanding, mistreatment and misappropriation and legalized theft of a persons' dignity. And so as an inevitable consequence, the perverse treatment of genuine witnesses.

I accept of course that many of you will have experience or knowledge or even a forefront view. Meaning for example Edward Snowden is either a hero or a traitor. So forgive me, I am not trying to invoke nationalistic dialogue. The point is exposing 'wrongdoing' is more cut socially and demographically in some contexts more than others. (maltreatment in care homes, flagrant short-cutting of Health and Safety procedures, el al). Dr David Kelly was a British scientist and leading authority on biological weapons. Employed by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) and engaged by the United Nations as a weapons inspector in Iraq. Was in a better position more than most to state that the invasion of Iraq was not justifiable on the 'weapons of mass destruction' allegations. Kelly's death also was a historical benchmark, one that stoked the fires of summary denunciation and witchhunting of whistleblowers even more. The Kelly case gave whistleblowers even more legalized and 'unwritten rule' shackles to carry.

My 'area' is about fraud and corruption, and in the training to accompany this blog, an aim is to fix a focus on why the 'whistleblower' is treated wholly differently to other witnesses.

To me the whistleblower has been stigmatized by certain corporates and organisations who do not exactly live up to their benevolent image in this context (i.e. the NHS) those with the abject hypocrisy to take crime against 'them' seriously in and hence approach ‘witnesses’ respectfully - but the next day trying not only to 'root out the 'trouble-maker' but to hound and persecute them as well. This is not new news of course, and corporate and organizational politics and hypocrisy has caused this double-edged sword of meaning or understanding of the status of a whistleblower, One who is a legal and viable and valuable witness one day, but a 'grass with a grudge' the next.

The law to date

The kind of semantics labelling actual witnesses as either inferior or as an actual enemy have I think found their way into law for the wrong reasons. They have also without question been 'de-categorized' by law enforcement in many countries (whistleblowers automatically and knee-jerk rejected as they are not 'real' witnesses. And hence why whistleblowers have no faith in approaching many enforcement authorities in many countries at first instance - i.e., to report crime, which one thinks is what they are supposed to encourage from witnesses. (Yes, I think I read that somewhere once)

The EU Whistleblower Director e due out later in 2021, regrettably says much but explains little. The thorny subject of ANONIMITY is evaded. Much of the directive is regulatory dominant, about ‘controls in place’ and ‘transparency’ (that word again)

Hence the build-up of resentment and image distortion by this uncontrolled external aggression and creating this latent and avoidable vulnerability for those who are witnesses, has created laws that really need not to have been passed at all. It has seen the creation of company policies that set in place reporting lines but unbalanced by exposing witnesses to in-house protocols that counter the first protocols and NOW change face suddenly, now geared towards humiliating a witness at the behest of the company concerned as opposed to supporting them in a criminal case - whether disposed of in-house or in a court.

In nigh-on every training course I run (now across 4 continents) the subject of 'whistleblowing' comes up. When that happens, it is like a rain cloud has suddenly appeared. The reactions and approaches are startling. Only minutes before we were talking methodically about witnesses (in fraud cases) but as soon as the 'w' word is sounded the approaches range from the sensible to the sublime, to the ridiculous, and on to full-on bigotry.

All because the term 'whistleblower' started somewhere. But our training is geared to filling gaps and removing uncertainties at policy level.

Learn more about our upcoming course Compliance and the Whistleblower Policy: Management, Structure and Trust scheduled on 23rd March 2021.