10 years of whistleblowing and WhistleB on World Whistleblower Day
June 23rd 2021 marks World Whistleblower Day. It’s a day to acknowledge and appreciate the value of those people who raise the alarm about matters they see or suspect that are unethical or unlawful. 2021 also marks ten years since the founding of WhistleB. We would like to celebrate the world’s whistleblowers with this look-back at how things have changed for them over the last decade – including WhistleB’s own small part in enabling that change.
Read this interview with Karin Henriksson, one of the founders of WhistleB, now a part of NAVEX Global.
How have attitudes to whistleblowing changed in the last 10 years?
There’s been a significant change. When we started WhistleB ten years ago people could sometimes ask why a whistleblowing system was needed. Here in the Nordics, known for flat organisations, perhaps a less-hierarchical leadership style and open-door policy, people assumed that everything was transparent. In other parts of Europe, such as France at that time, we would be met with “this doesn’t match our culture”. In other countries, such as Spain and Portugal, there were regulations restricting anonymous whistleblowing, probably due to the perception of the negative side of anonymous whistleblowing.
Today we know that no organisation is safe, even if you have a fantastic culture and good leadership. There is always a chance that a person may act unethically. Companies understand the value of whistleblowing, whether that be for risk mitigation, cost-reduction, brand protection, sustainability, employee well-being, or to comply with the forthcoming EU law that requires a whistleblowing channel for organisations with 50 or more employees.
What has prompted this shift to a more favourable view of whistleblowers?
I’d highlight a number of specific events that have catalysed change – starting with the most notable, the #MeToo movement. Sexual harassment had been swept under the carpet for a long time. Then it was suddenly brought out into the open through this movement and a number of strong, colourful personalities. Blowing the whistle became more acceptable, whistleblowers were listened to and empowered. However, social media and the broader media acted as the whistleblowing channels used to bring about change. What we want to establish is safe channels for organisations so that problems can be dealt with inside the organisation (when possible).
Another “event” was the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, a case where we noticed a more positive tone in the media reporting. The whistleblower was heralded as a hero, not a troublemaker, not disloyal. This change in tone was also a factor in the shift in attitudes.
Finally,laws around the world have started to reflect this complete change in attitudes. We are seeing stricter data protection laws, stronger whistleblower protection laws and laws on retaliation against whistleblowers. All of which are a step to a safer existence for whistleblowers, and more transparent business.
How have companies reacted?
There was a spill-over effect on organisational whistleblowing. Large companies and powerful investors wanted to demonstrate their zero tolerance and act against all forms of unethical behaviour – sexual harassment, corruption, money-laundering and so on. Stamping out such issues is difficult without trustworthy proof though, proof which is only going to come fast enough from those that suffer or others that suspect.
Thus there followed a realisation of the value of workplace whistleblowers and the importance of enabling them to raise their voices safely. Since identifying and addressing problems where they happen is less damaging and costly, organisations have started to look at a more systematic approach to whistleblowing, from establishing the right culture to managing and, if necessary, investigating cases appropriately. In some cases that means allowing employees and other stakeholders to blow the whistle anonymously, in most cases it means implementing robust, secure and trustworthy channels to encourage whistleblowers to speak up.
How will the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive impact the market and whistleblowers in the region?
Hopefully, the most important impact will be the intended purpose of the Directive – to bring to the fore behaviour that breaches EU laws, by making it safer for whistleblowers to raise concerns.
In practice, it will mean that all companies with 50 or more employees in the European Union have to have a reporting channel where people can report on suspected misconduct, and that all reporters remain protected and their identities confidential. There must be a process to follow up these cases and provide feedback to the whistleblower, managed by an independent person or persons. Putting the whistleblower at the centre of the regulation like this is unprecedented.
As a result we are seeing a completely different demand for our products today. A new market has emerged.
What has this 10-year journey been like for WhistleB?
It’s been fabulous! And while the attitudes, regulations and market have changed (for the better, happily) our why has remained the same. As the founders of WhistleB, both Gunilla and I came from sustainability and business ethics backgrounds. From the outset WhistleB was on a journey to make the business world, society, organisations more open and transparent.
And this has guided the purpose of the WhistleB system. We had seen that there were phone hotlines available for whistleblowers, to comply with the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. But these wouldn’t be as useable in Europe with our many languages and stricter data privacy laws. And we also felt strongly that unless whistleblowers trusted the system they wouldn’t speak up, and in turn, companies wouldn’t gain the maximum value from their reports.
So we started looking at how one could blow the whistle safely in many different languages, to make the threshold to report as low as possible. We developed a web-based platform for the secure management of whistleblowing cases, and we built in the possibility for a dialogue with the anonymous whistleblower right from the beginning.
It’s really rewarding to now see that most organisations are on the same journey. This decade has been a period of companies stepping up to their societal responsibilities and striving for transparency and more ethical practices. Whistleblowing has increasingly become part of those efforts.
How has the company grown?
For many years, we grew with our customers and at pace with their needs. At the end of 2019 we became part of NAVEX Global. This has enabled us to put even more efforts into the online development of our service, and being part of a leading compliance and risk company, means that our customers can now benefit from a range of other compliance, ESG and risk tools.
Our team has also been a key success factor in our growth. We have a fantastic group of people that have been working in different countries and online for years. We were ahead of the curve in remote working, but it requires self-motivated employees that take responsibility and initiative. And we have that in our team of professionals.
My view is that we are very strongly positioned for continued growth given that we have ten years’ experience with an online whistleblowing platform. Today, organisations are thirsty for digital solutions to compliance and risk matters, and we truly have first-mover advantage in whistleblowing.
How has the product developed?
We’ve been digital from the beginning, and we’ve recently invested significantly in online onboarding, purchasing and digitalising more of the surrounding processes.
User-friendliness has always been a priority. It’s part of removing the drama from blowing the whistle by making the reporting channel intuitive for the whistleblower. But it also has to be intuitive for those who manage or investigate the cases, to help them apply a structured process and adhere to new regulations simply. This is particularly important for the large segment of SMEs we know will need our help in the coming few years.
This simplicity in usage should not be mistaken for simplicity in features though. Over the years, we have been guided by customer requests and added in rich functionality. The system allows dialogue with anonymous whistleblowers. It has different user rights and secure communication between users. Companies can select different channels for different types of receivers or reporters, as well as advanced statistics and reporting functionality.
Consequently, we have recently put a lot of effort into the packaging of the service. We want our customers to be able to choose only what they need, perhaps just one language for a smaller national company, but 60+ languages and a range of channels for a multinational, for example.
What would you say is the niche of WhistleB´s product today?
We are particularly good at helping European companies to get up and running with a whistleblowing system simply and quickly, including a robust on-boarding process – irrespective of company size. Our system is GDPR compliant and complies with the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive.
Going forward – what can we expect of the WhistleB product?
Becoming a NAVEX Global company has put us in an even stronger position to develop the WhistleB service faster as digitalisation accelerates both requirements and solutions. WhistleB will continue to be a strong, separate product in the NAVEX Global portfolio of services, primarily for European companies that also operate internationally. We also see that the data privacy issue is very important to European customers, and we will continue to focus on this. As a NAVEX Global product, we look forward to being able to provide a broader compliance service offering to customers, from one supplier.
I’d also highlight our WhistleB Partnership Programme. We’ve worked with partners for a long time but we are currently seeing an increasing demand in Europe from professionals such as law firms, investigators, employment specialists and others to partner with us. WhistleB provides a secure, user-friendly, web-based platform and our partners provide expertise in processing and investigating cases.
We have active partners all over Europe, and our mutual customers get the benefit of expertise from two organisations, covering the receiving, processing and investigating of cases.
What about 10 years from now for whistleblowing and whistleblowers?
In the next decade I believe that having an organisational whistleblowing system will be business as usual – nobody will think about it any longer. Corporate responsibility is on the rise along with a move to stamp out corruption, which is so destructive to society, harassment that can lead to so much pain, or other societally damaging behaviours.
Loyalty to your employer will mean a responsibility to report issues internally, loyalty to employees will mean making it possible to do so safely.
Whistleblowers will be seen as beacons of professional or moral integrity, seedlings for change and value-adding members of the organisation or its network. Well I hope so at least!
Helpful whistleblowing resources on this 10-year anniversary and World Whistleblower Day
To encourage and enable organisations to embrace whistleblowers and whistleblowing, we are making the following available:
- Free WhistleB e-book: The ABC guide for establishing a whistleblowing solution that increases customer and employee satisfaction. Download the e-book or order a hard copy from Amazon or Bokus.
- NavexGlobal Infographic: What your Board needs to know about Workplace Whistleblowing
- World Whistleblower Day webinar
Happy World Whistleblower Day!