Whistleblowers play a vital role in exposing corruption, fraud, and mismanagement, and in preventing disasters that arise from negligence or wrongdoing. Those within public institutions and the private sector who speak out about wrongdoing potentially save lives and resources, as was the case when a doctor disclosed the cover-up of the SARS outbreak in China. Poor or no follow-up of initial reports, as in the Madoff pyramid-scheme scandal in the United States, can cost investors millions.
Definition of “Whistleblowing”
Whistleblowing – the disclosure of information about a perceived wrongdoing in an organisation, or the risk thereof, to individuals or entities believed to be able to effect action.
This definition was developed in the framework of the TI project “Blowing the Whistle Harder – Enhancing Whistleblower Protection in the European Union”.
In most known cases, whistleblowers expose themselves to high personal risks in order to protect the public.
Legal, organisational, and national cultural contexts often discourage employees from disclosing what they know about wrongdoing. Whistleblowers may face severe repercussions for their actions, including workplace retaliation or dismissal, psychological damage, threats and physical harm. They must be protected when they speak out, and at the same time there need to be efficient and trustworthy follow-up mechanisms in place to ensure the proper investigation of disclosures.
International conventions like the UN Convention Against Corruption, the Council of Europe Civil Law Convention on Corruption, the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, and others, commit the signatory countries to implementing appropriate legislation. An increasing number of governments are considering legislation. Yet so far there is no coherent European framework, and national legislation on whistleblower protection varies considerably in degree of effectiveness.