Very valuable you might say. So why don’t we seem to care that many struggle to survive?
Whistleblowers perform a vital role in today’s world. They alert the public to financial fraud and abuse in institutions, as well as potential environmental disasters.
Many companies ignore attempts by whistleblowers to raise concerns about misconduct happening inside the company. Remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010? It could have been prevented had BP listened to just one of the many warnings coming from whistleblowers inside the company.
Besides preventing serious incidents like the Deepwater Horizon disaster, whistleblowers can also save organizations serious cash. In recent years, private sector whistleblowers have alerted management to more serious economic crimes than were spotted by all the official fraud sleuths combined – internal audit, corporate security, law enforcement – saving around $3m per case.
Whistleblowers can suffer a lot of abuse. While trying to uncover corruption and combat illegal activity, whistleblowers are put through the wringer as their lives are picked apart during investigations and prosecution of the crime they initially brought to light.
Christopher Paulos, an attorney with the Levin, Papantonio law firm, sums it up nicely: “The importance of whistleblowers in our country cannot be overstated, they’re simply the very best method of exposing and defeating fraud and corruption.”
Many characteristics work together to make an individual a professional person – one of which is upholding standards of ethical behaviour. This means that a professional person does the right thing, and is prepared to challenge any behaviour in others that they perceive as falling short of the mark.
Early Warning System
Whistleblowing is not disloyalty. It’s the opposite – it’s loyalty. Someone who blows the whistle can be that employee who’s the most loyal to the firm – the most energetic employee who’s serious about avoiding negative consequences facing their firm from regulators or the law. When someone takes the time to blow the whistle, they are raising a concern, either in the workplace or externally as a customer or vendor. The whistleblower sees a wrong about to happen, or a danger to someone, or a risk to their organization. Perhaps they see malpractice in how activities are being undertaken, or even a fraud in the workplace. And yes, there’s the potential that whistleblowers can save lives – Deepwater Horizon. Whistleblowing is an early warning system for misconduct, wrongdoing or dangerous behaviours.
This early warning system is documented in the ACFEs 2014 Report to the Nations. Globally, whistleblower tips account for 40% of reported frauds, according to the report – possibly preventing potential disaster, or halting an increasingly growing threat in its tracks.
So why do we contort our faces into a shocked expression when coming face to face with a whistleblower? Why do we cringe? Whistleblowers experience a stigma within their industry when they go public. It often makes them undesirable hires and leaves them unemployed after they have served the public.
Yet, over the last few years, we’ve seen how the power of whistleblowers can effect change, hold companies accountable and stop corruption. The spotlight on the critical role they could have played is seen in the absence of them in some of the biggest ethical lapses and most devastating frauds in history.
These people prevent disasters and save money – so what’s the problem?
That brave sole – your lunch buddy, your morning chit-chat person, your esteemed colleague – who blew the whistle on wrongdoing in your company and essentially blew things up, is left with no job, no income and a mounting pile of bills that typically accompany a lengthy and usually stressful whistleblowing campaign against a retaliatory company. And if seen walking towards you down the hall, you pull an abrupt about-face and feign a “oh I forgot something important on the other side of the building” motion while quickly turning the corner and running for cover. It can’t be denied. This is what many whistleblowers have felt.
There are those who have blown the whistle on questionable activity in their organization who are hailed as exemplary employees. These great companies have taken the step to incorporate a whistleblower policy along with an anonymous hotline. They take reports seriously, investigate them, and make policy changes as needed.
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