UN climate change whistleblowers must be protected

February 04, 2022
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Mr. Steiner
UNDP Administrator
United Nations Development Programme
One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017 USA

                                                                                                                                        2nd February 2022

Dear Administrator Steiner,

We are writing in response to your letter of 13 December 2021 on issues related to the UNDP GEF Russia Standards and Labels project and whistleblower protection, and in particular in relation to the two whistleblower cases of Mr. John O’Brien and Mr. Dmitry Ershov. We write to you jointly, with Government Accountability Project and the Whistleblowing International Network (WIN). We would like to make the following points.

First, we note that the UNDP debarment list is not yet public. In your 13 December 2021 letter, you stated that the vendor sanctions policy is being updated and will be released in 2022.  We believe it is important that the UNDP make this debarment list and vendor sanctions policy public, and kindly request to be informed of the results of this updated policy once it becomes available.

Second, we would like to correct a statement in your letter; you wrote that Mr. John O’Brien “confirmed he was not retaliated against.” Mr. O’Brien has consistently claimed that he was the subject of whistleblower retaliation and that, because whistleblower best practice standards are not applied at the UNDP, particularly with respect to a properly constituted ‘reverse burden of proof,’ it is nearly impossible to prove retaliation under the current system. We therefore do not accept your statement characterizing what he said.

We welcome the fact that the Head of the UN Ethics Office, Ms. Elia Armstrong, wrote to Mr. O’Brien in October 2021 that once the whistleblower protection policy at UNDP is strengthened, Mr. O’Brien will be free to apply again for protection.

Our organizations are committed to whistleblower protection because of the public interest significance of the information that whistleblowers provide. We also strongly believe in the importance of investing in projects and activities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate damage.  Consequently, we cannot afford to allow the important work that UNDP is doing in the field of climate change to be undermined by its own systems that fail to protect those who speak up about corruption or mismanagement of project funding in this area, or to hold wrongdoers to account. Reforming the UNDP whistleblowing system to protect those who use it is therefore urgent. Robust protections for whistleblowers ensure the free flow of information to allow the UNDP to be a stronger and more effective partner to the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and to the Green Climate Fund (GCF)... 

Read and download full letter here 

If you would like to highlight your whistleblowing events or activities on the WIN website, please drop us a line on info@whistleblowingnetwork.org.