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Briefing

Whistleblowing: the challenge for employers


Date:
1 Mar 2011

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In an interview for the American TV show ’60 Minutes’, Julian Assange, the founder of internet media organisation, Wikileaks, stated in the context of there not being any whistleblower protection that: “If [employees] who say that there is some abuse going on and there's not a proper mechanism for internal accountability and external accountability, they must have a conduit to get that out to the public. And we are the conduit”.  

In amongst the drama of Wikileaks this statement focuses the mind on the question: Where there are dangers and real risks to the public, how do we ensure that those who spot them are able to raise a concern effectively and early with minimum risk to ourselves?  

When we travel to work on the train, we rely on it being ok for the track engineer to raise a concern about a signal failure. We want to know that when we go the hospital, the nurse who is looking after our mother or father is able to raise a concern about wrongdoing or malpractice early, even if they only have a suspicion. Most, if not all of us, would agree that we would rather that the nurse and the engineer raise their concerns than keep quiet. But how do we ensure that this is the case? 

And, when reflecting on our own workplaces, are we given messages that say that it is safe to speak up? 

This briefing looks at the lessons to be learned from Wikileaks, the role of whistleblower protection in the UK, and what employers should do to make sure that their whistleblowing arrangements work and there is a safe alternative to silence.