New Protection for Whistleblowers in EU

Whistleblowers across the European Union have won greater protection under landmark legislation aimed at encouraging reports of wrongdoing, the BBC reports on its news website. The new law, which has been approved by the European Parliament, shields whistleblowers from retaliation and creates “safe channels” to allow them to report breaches of EU law.

This is the first time whistleblowers have been given EU-wide protection, the report says, and marks a change from previous rules where protection for whistleblowers was at the discretion of the individual member states.

The new legislation gives whistleblowers who report breaches of EU law a “high level of protection”. It establishes “safe channels” for reporting the information, both within an organisation and to public authorities. If no appropriate action is taken or in cases where reporting to the authorities would not work, whistleblowers are permitted to make a public disclosure – including by speaking to the media. The law protects whistleblowers against dismissal, demotion and other forms of punishment. National authorities are required to train officials in how to deal with whistleblowers under the legislation.

The European Commission stated:

The new rules cover a wide reach of areas of EU law, including anti-money laundering and corporate taxation, data protection, protection of the Union’s financial interests, food and product safety and environmental protection and nuclear safety.

Safeguards for data protection and anti-money laundering will be of particular importance to telcos who hold vast amounts of personal data and are increasingly involved in the transfer of money across borders.

In recent years, whistleblowers have revealed a number of controversial leaks involving information about tax avoidance, data and analytics collection and money laundering. The most high profile are:

  • LuxLeaks: Whistleblowers working for PricewaterhouseCoopers leaked documents exposing favourable tax arrangements offered by Luxembourg to some of the world’s biggest companies while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was prime minister.
  • Paradise Papers: Millions of financial documents were leaked, detailing offshore tax-avoidance schemes. The papers revealed details about how the ultra-wealthy secretly invest cash in offshore tax havens.
  • Cambridge Analytica: The British data analytics company was accused of harvesting the personal data of millions of Facebook users without their consent.
  • Panama Papers: About 11 million confidential documents were leaked from a Panamanian law firm, showing how it helped clients to launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax.

Commsrisk has previously argued that whistleblowing can be the most effective mechanism for fighting fraud in general. Smart organisations should encourage the ethical sensibilities of their staff by taking the time to listen:

When reviewing the efficacy of your fraud management strategy, ask yourself if your company has made the most of the simple and cheap ways to promote whistleblowing. Beneficial steps include having clear policies and procedures to support whistleblowing, training staff about how to report their concerns, expressing a strong and genuine commitment to good ethical conduct, and implementing a hotline which allows for anonymous and confidential tip-offs. In the communications industry, we have no excuse not to listen to our staff. Strong corporate ethics boost a company’s reputation, and will appeal to the best recruits.

Marianne Curphey
Marianne Curphey
Marianne Curphey is an award-winning freelance writer, blogger and columnist. She is a former Editor of Guardian Money online, City News Editor of The Guardian, Insurance Correspondent of The Times and Deputy Personal Finance Editor at The Times.