Truth to Power: Whistleblowers

By Misch Pautsch Switch to German for original article

Luxembourg is one of the last three EU states that has yet to draft its legislation to implement EU Directive 2019/1937 on whistleblower protection. Deadline: December 17, 2021. The EU's minimum standard directives were published almost two years ago. Can Luxembourg, which is repeatedly mentioned in "leaks" affairs and even had one named after it, afford this delay?

The importance of whistleblowers – people who report individual or systematic misconduct in organisations to authorities or the press in order to put an end to it – is becoming increasingly clear. They usually reveal their knowledge about misconduct at the cost of their own safety and almost always at the cost of their old lives, as Edward Snowden's exile after his report on the practices of the NSA (National Security Agency) shows. Yet, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), whistleblowers are central to fraud investigations: 43 percent of cases are discovered through tips from individuals.

This is probably why many whistleblowers fear revenge. Frances Haugen, who exposed unethical to allegedly illegal practices by Facebook, told the European Parliament on November 8 how she had to weigh potential retaliation from her former employer against the greater good: "I know that they [Facebook] could do horrible things to me. They could, you know, tarnish my name. They could fund troll armies. They could sue me. There's lots of things they could do. But compared to having a million lives on the line, none of those harms seem like things that outweigh that."

"Almost all of us know someone who 'knows something' but does nothing about it", says Dimitris Kafteranis, assistant professor in the Centre for Financial and Corporate Integrity at Coventry University. "Yet their reports are so important, big and small", he continues: "It was very frustrating to learn that doctors in China, for example, knew early on that a new virus was spreading. But they were silenced. Imagine if they could have spoken freely right away. But there is no solid international legislation that protects people from retaliation in such a situation."

Anonymous, safe channels

That is why he is keeping a close eye on the development of European Directive 2019/1937 on the "protection of individuals reporting breaches of EU law". It requires direct, secure and anonymous reporting channels in all companies with more than 50 employees and municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants, not only for employees, but also for everyone working on the periphery, such as suppliers, allies of the whistleblowers, interns, or journalists. According to the directive, whistleblowers must receive confirmation that their information has been received seven days after reporting – feedback on possible consequences must follow no later than three months later. If whistleblowers have information that is of public interest, or if their information is not being heard internally, they must have ways of getting this information safely into the public domain.

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