Prague, Czech Republic — Last week an international array of whistleblowing and anti-corruption experts gathered in Prague for an event that signals a new stage in the evolution of the anti-corruption movement. More than 30 delegates from 17 countries took part in an intensive 2-day roundtable organized by Transparency International (TI).
The goal was to refine the content of a new TI publication which is intended to guide national legislators as they draft whistleblower protection laws for their countries.
This is a very significant development. Transparency International, the world’s leading anti-corruption organization, has always recognised the importance of whistleblowing: but this event signals that TI is now giving whistleblower protection special emphasis, and is taking steps to propagate this practice more widely around the globe.
For the past 30 years whistleblower protection has remained largely on the fringes, advocated by a handful of dedicated NGOs, primarily in the USA and UK. Inspired by the work of these pioneers, other similar NGOs (like FAIR and Canadians for Accountability) have also sprung up in a few other countries. But until recently the idea of protecting whistleblowers was still seen as a slightly wacky concept -- controversial and unproven. This is no longer the case.
Why are attitudes changing? Various recent research studies have shown that employees are the single most productive source of information to uncover fraud and misconduct. One international study of white-collar crime found that employee tip-offs accounted for more exposures of fraud than all of the traditional management controls combined (e.g. audit, fraud risk management and corporate security). So TI’s stance is entirely rational and perhaps inevitable.
And TI is not the only organization going in this direction.
The Council of Europe (COE) is Europe's leading human rights organisation. It operates the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, created on behalf of COE's 47 member countries to enforce the European Convention on Human Rights. COE was represented at the roundtable, and a draft resolution has been prepared which calls upon its member countries to establish comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation. This resolution should be finalized and approved by the Parliamentary Assembly within the next few months.
Also represented at the meeting were ICC (International Chamber of Commerce) which has developed international whistleblower guidelines for the corporate sector, and GRECO (Group of States against Corruption) an offshoot of COE. GRECO comprises 46 member states that have voluntarily submitted themselves for external review of their anti-corruption efforts, including whistleblower protection. GRECO's members are 45 European States including the UK, plus the United States of America. (Canada is not a member.)
One of the most impressive aspects of the conference was the range, calibre and experience of the participants. Many are working in difficult conditions, such as in the formerly-Communist eastern European countries, whose young democracies are still fragile and vulnerable to exploitation by corrupt actors.
Such a group made for an event that was firmly in touch with the current realities in the field. During one session exciting news came through in a text message: a whistleblower in Romania had just won his case in court – cause for applause and celebration.
Alas, when did a whistleblower last prevail in Canada? If only we could do as well as Romania!
Based on what I saw at the Roundtable, I'm confident that the whistleblower 'best practices' that TI creates will be valuable to legislators – and not just in Europe – as a starting point for developing better laws. But the Roundtable has a larger significance.
Our planet is beset by huge problems – from the instability of our finanical systems to climate change and global poverty – that are in part due to irresponsibility, misconduct and even illegality by governments and corporations. We need mechanisms – laws and institutions – that will help citizens to take back control of society: so that we can direct the planet's resources towards serving humanity and the public interest.
The alliance that is emerging between the whistleblower community and influential organizations like TI and COE looks like an excellent step in the right direction.
FAIR – Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform
July 15th, 2009
- TI Roundtable participants
- COE draft resolution on the protection of whistleblowers
- Transparency International website
- Council of Europe (COE) website
- Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) website
- International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) website
- Transparency International Canada website
- FAIR's report on the 2008 GAP conference in Washington