The Truth Needs Friends – EU must strengthen whistleblower protection in Europe!

WIN is supporting this campaign by the Green/EFA Group in the EU Parliament because we have a massive opportunity to end the fear, silence, loneliness and bullying that some people suffer from just telling the truth. The European Union is on the verge of enacting new legislation that would change the lives of people who reveal the truth about illegalities, corrupt practices and other dodgy dealings – otherwise known as “whistleblowers”.

The first of its kind, the new European Whistleblower Directive would oblige all EU governments to introduce minimum standards of protection for truth-tellers. These protections would include penalties for people that retaliate against whistleblowers or try to shut them up; an obligation for public and private bodies to set up channels for receiving reports and to keep the identity of the whistleblower confidential; and legal shields for whistleblowers so that, if for example they breach a confidentiality agreement, they would not be held liable for it.

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New Chance for Openness in Australia

australian-law-810x540WIN is delighted to publish this article by Professor AJ Brown on the exciting new amendments now making their way through the Australian Parliament. Why are these amendments so important? Anna Myers, WIN’s ED, explains at the end of this blog that these amendments focus on the crux of whistleblower protection, which is to reinforce and maintain credible and accountable governance at all levels of the private and public sectors. This means being able to hold those who have power to account for their conduct. But will the EU follow Australia’s lead?

After a long gestation, Corporations Act amendments passed by Australia’s Senate last week promise a whole new level of whistleblower protection in the private sector, with flow-on effects for the public sector, once approved by the entire parliament in February next year.

Whistleblower protection is also featuring prominently in Australia’s ongoing debate over a new national integrity commission. It is especially topical given the role played by whistleblowers like Jeff Morris in uncovering the wrongdoing at the banking royal commission.

Recently as well, the role of James Shelton and Brian Hood could be told. These were managers who stepped up to reveal appalling foreign bribery by Australia’s Reserve Bank-owned companies, Securency and Note Printing Australia – the nation’s biggest and worst corruption scandal.

So the Australian government’s amendments to overhaul protections for corporate employees could not come at a better time.

Previous plans to limit this to extreme, unlikely emergencies have been shelved. Instead, if employees blow the whistle at least to a regulator, and nothing is happening in 90 days, it is relatively simple for them to go public.

There are some hoops to go through, and time will tell if they are still too tight. But this will be Australia’s most powerful driver yet, not just for companies to improve their culture and compliance but for regulators and law enforcement agencies to change their previous lax ways.

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EU whistleblowers still at risk: An Update

flag-3370970_1920WIN’s Legal Briefs have been updated to include a response to the EU Council which is now scrutinising the draft directive. This update highlights growing concern that the much welcome improvements to the EU draft directive recently voted through the Parliamentary Committee will not replicated by the EU Council.

WIN is grateful to Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project in Washington DC, for his assistance in drafting this latest update.

The main problem, which the EU Council seems set to embrace and which was recently rejected by the JURI Committee in its Report, is that the draft directive reinforces employer control over the reporting of wrongdoing. It does so by making it a requirement for all those in a work-based relationship to report their concern to their employer first. While reporting internally will remain the default for the vast majority of whistleblowers and it makes sense for employers to do all they can to encourage their staff to speak up early, it is dangerous to make it a legal obligation.

Further, making staff use the channels that employers “officially” set up is almost worse. The vast majority of whistleblowers raise concerns as a normal part of doing their jobs and typically it is only as a result of the response they get, that they realise that something is really wrong. Formal reports of wrongdoing via official employer channels set up for that purpose will only ever capture the tip of the information the Directive seeks to protect; the iceberg is the routine reports of discovered problems though the supervisory chain of command and in sensitive assignments such as audits, inspection reports and reports of investigations. Very few people who report problems are doing so specifically to denounce misconduct or as dissidents.

WIN has drafted this Legal Brief in response to the EU Council to help Council members understand why it is important to remedy these structural problems in the draft directive as a matter of urgency.

We are also pleased to offer it to anyone interested in the protection of whistleblowers and in the detail of the debates that are happening in Europe right now.

See WIN‘s other Legal Briefs, including briefs on anonymity and remedies, in the WIN blog posted on 17 October 2018.

WIN Co-founders GAP and Protect celebrate milestone anniversaries

This month, two of WIN’s co-founding member organisations hit major milestones. The Government Accountability Project (GAP) in Washington DC held a gala on 15th November to celebrate 40 years of pioneering work defending whistleblowers through the courts, the media and in the public domain. At a reception in the House of Commons on the 14th November, Protect (formerly Public Concern at Work) celebrated 25 years’ running a free legal advice to whistleblowers and working hard to create safer and more responsive workplaces throughout the UK.

It is fantastic that these organisations are continuing to work hard to make whistleblowing work in the public interest. In fact, like so many small but mighty NGOs, they are so busy they rarely have the time to explain clearly the importance of the work they do. This is something that WIN aims to change.

As part of this effort, WIN is delighted to share this short film made by Protect for its 25th anniversary, explaining what they do and providing an insight into their challenging but essential work with whistleblowers. While every organisation working in the whistleblower protection field is unique, Protect’s mission is shared by many of those participating in WIN – to ensure whistleblowers are safe to speak up, their messages are heeded and the public interest is protected.

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