Whistleblowing: what are the benefits and the dangers for the whistle-blower?

Feb 10, 2023Webinars and Blogs

There are well rehearsed benefits of whistleblowing. For the organisation is not least the opportunity to learn about risks that might otherwise not be identified, and being seen to be following good corporate governance. But what about for the whistle-blower? How can and do organisations prevent victimisation and detriment? How common are these? Once reported, how does an organisation balance a need to protect the whistle-blower against the need to fully investigate incidents? Can whistleblowing be an expensive waste of time that merely encourages staff grievances? Or does it provide an essential crime prevention service? This webinar will discuss:

  • The benefits and limitations of whistleblowing
  • The potential implications for whistle-blowers, what happens if they are victimised?
  • The future of whistleblowing as a risk management strategy 

Chair: Professor Martin Gill

David Lewis – Professor of Employment Law, Middlesex University London
Wayne Duvenage – CEO, OUTA

Key points
Wayne Duvenage starts by highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of reporting. On the positive side, the opportunities include: highlighting wrongs, saving the organisation money, and protecting its reputation. The drawbacks include having little legal protection, facing the risk of being ostracised, losing jobs, being the target of violence, even being killed. Wayne argues the need for proper protection, recognising whistle-blowers as champions of democracy and asks why these brave people are not being snapped up by business, as opposed to being isolated. There is a need for whistle-blowers to follow good practices, reporting internally first and then to someone outside the agency to get advice. In South Africa there is a Council dedicated to tackling anti-corruption which seeks to offer guidance. Something is needed, at present the emphasis, attitude and approach taken to whistle-blowers is so often wrong. 

Professor David Lewis draws on a body of research which suggests that often people don’t whistle blow because they don’t believe the issue will be rectified by doing so, and because they fear retaliation. Part of the difficulty is that in most countries the protection of whistle-blowers is not statutory. These issues need addressing in part by recognising the findings of global research that retaliation is the exception rather than the rule (about 14% do so which is not slight, and everyone matters, but not as commonplace as many suggest). Moreover, false reporting is rare too. Also by introducing good policies, endorsed by staff and Unions and proactively supported by the organisational hierarchy. You will witness an interesting discussion about the role of the criminal law here and the Duty of Care responsibilities for staff. There are benefits in an independent oversight agency but the costs are seen as prohibitive. David is generally against rewarding whistle-blowers, maybe making an exception in the financial sector where the benefits can be measured, but does that give the impression that speaking out against non-financial matters is less valuable? Key moving forward is the need to highlight the benefits of successful whistleblowing, this is less common because it is less newsworthy, and that is under researched too.

Professor Martin Gill
9th February 2023

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