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International experts - Published: 12 April 2018
Karin Henriksson, WhistleB
Founding Partner and Senior Advisor - Stockholm

Whistleblowing in the spotlight - Encourage your employees to report concerns to you


At WhistleB, we applaud a more positive view of the value of whistleblower tips. The UK-based Financial Times1 and Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter2 have published pieces in the last month related to high-profile whistleblowing matters and their articles highlight that whistleblowers need the strictest protection. We could not agree more. Organisations should offer a safe environment for reporting misconduct and protecting the anonymity of people who dare to report.

However, we are more cautious in declaring that “leaking” information is the best way to sound the alert. Our years of experience show us that while ethical companies, those that are truly serious about conducting business with integrity, want their employees’ help in raising the alert to misconduct, they also want the opportunity to handle such matters internally. Initial internal investigation enables organisations to act quickly, minimise damage for all concerned, and not least, conduct enquiries appropriately to ensure that claims are true and prevent adverse publicity from false or malicious claims.

So what’s needed for employees (and others) to report wrongdoing without the fear of negative consequences, while at the same time ensuring that each complaint can be handled seriously and appropriately? Our answer is a fully secure system that lets people report anytime and anywhere, with anonymous online reporting and continued dialogue, and a systematic follow-up process that complies with the strictest of data protection and whistleblower confidentiality regulations.

Interest in setting up whistleblowing systems has increased during recent years, partly catalysed by legal requirements, for example in France, but also because more companies want to show that they mean what they say in their Codes of Conduct.

Several the trends that we find interesting are:

1) Phone reporting is yesterday. Many companies are now skipping this mode of reporting as it is less secure (the information cannot be encrypted all the way from the whistleblower to the receiver of the message), it is less cost-efficient, and less user-friendly. Today, in the world of smart phones, whistleblowers are more likely to attach pictures and text files as evidential material, which is valuable for the investigations.

Our recommendation is to have voice phone reporting as an option only in countries where internet access is not widespread, or for employee groups that might hesitate to report in writing.

2) Anonymous reporting is important. In EU countries anonymous reporting is permitted, but seen as a “last resort”, and is positioned as a complementary channel for reporting severe matters of misconduct. However, our customers witness that those alerts that are important for them to receive are usually submitted anonymously.

Our recommendation is to inform potential users about the European rules for anonymous reporting without jeopardizing the option to report anonymously. In many cases a whistleblower that has reached out anonymously is willing to reveal their name in a follow-up dialogue.

3) Open up whistleblowing to external groups. Many of our customers open up their whistleblowing channels to external groups, such as suppliers and customers. This is part of their business ethics work, in which they take responsibility for a broader group than just their own employees.

Our recommendation is to make sure that you ask the right questions to the different target groups, while keeping reporting simple and easy – a serious whistleblower sounds the alarm probably only once in their lifetime. You can also consider including the possibility for people to ask questions on ethical dilemmas before deciding whether to submit an alert.

Sometimes things don’t always go as they should in a workplace. Consequently, discrimination, harassment or some kind of corruption can arise. This is why the organisation’s employees must have tools they can use to sound the alarm – quickly, simply and anonymously. And the organisation’s board and shareholders also need tools to be able to respond rapidly.

 

WhistleB provides a digital whistleblowing service, complete with market-leading security. We are a customer-focused fast-growing company. WhistleB’s whistleblower service is used today in more than 100 countries. Our customers come from many different sectors, including banking and finance, trade, manufacturing, services, infrastructure, media, public authorities and NGOs.

 

1 Financial Times, 14th March 2018. "Whistleblowers deserve our thanks - and our protection too." Brook Masters

2 Dagens Nyheter, 17th March 2018. "USA:s legendariska visselblåsare." Björn af Kleen 

 

Karin Henriksson is a founding partner of WhistleB. She has worked for European institutions in Brussels and has advised international and local actors in her role as a business ethics consultant. Karin is a member of Transparency International's Whistleblowing Group in Sweden.

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