How to implement a whistleblowing system – communication
Welcome to this short series on how to implement a whistleblowing system. While implementation of the actual system can be simple, and it is if you use WhistleB’s digital implementation and start-up process, there are other related matters to get right so that your organisation gains the maximum value from its whistleblowing system. These include communication, resources for case management, dealing with legalities, when to bring in external parties and so on.
This first article in the series is about the communication surrounding your whistleblowing system.
Who needs to know about your whistleblowing channel?
Organisations should think broadly about exactly which groups need to be aware of the whistleblowing channel – often more broadly than they realise. Almost all stakeholders, internal and external, are relevant.
For organisations in the EU, one of the reasons for a wide audience is that a new directive will soon accord protection for both internal and external stakeholders who blow the whistle on suspected illegal conduct of the organisation. The new laws will cover employees, former employees, contractors, trainees, shareholders, volunteers, suppliers and customers who become aware of illegal conduct in a work context. Further, persons assisting in the notification of the wrongdoing, and third parties linked to the notifying individual, who may experience retaliatory actions in a work-related context, such as colleagues or relatives of the whistleblower, are also legally protected.
This is likely to be a far more extensive list than many organisations expect.
Why communicate about the whistleblowing system?
Aside from legal obligations, there are many other benefits to be gained from proper communication about the whistleblowing channel.
Let’s start with communication to internal stakeholders, which primarily covers an organisation’s employees. Research has found that many people do not dare to blow the whistle for fear of retaliation or because they do not believe anything will be done with the report. Consequently, organisations fail to get the sensitive information they need to stop misconduct in its tracks and reduce risks. A major part of communication to employees therefore aims to generate trust, in the whistleblowing system and process, and in the organisation as an ethical employer, so as to create a speak-up culture.
When first implementing a whistleblowing system, some organisations initially question whether they will receive a lot of irrelevant reports. WhistleB’s own customer surveys have found that this is not usually the case. However, communication about what to report (see below) ensures that the organisation receives the right kind of reports, rather than, for example, complaints that should be made through other grievance channels.
And going back to legal obligations, the new whistleblower protection laws across the EU oblige organisations to communicate certain matters regarding whistleblowing (see below). So proper communication will also reduce compliance risk.
In terms of external stakeholders, including suppliers, customers, partners and investors, there are two major benefits we would highlight. The first relates to the element of trust mentioned above. Implementation of a whistleblowing system demonstrates to all parties that you are serious about business ethics and want to be a transparent company. This is valuable to the sustainability profile of an organisation, and something that investors in particular are increasingly interested in knowing about.
Further, a whistleblowing system can be a powerful substitute for management in remote areas of the value chain, such as in international organisations with global supply chains. Here external parties can be valuable as potential whistleblowers. Opening up the reporting part of the whistleblowing system to external parties extends your reach, and communicates that you are seriously interested in knowing if a customer or supplier suspects misconduct.
What should you communicate about your whistleblowing channel?
With the above in mind, the aim of communication should be to:
Build trust in the organisation and the system
- Emphasise the value and purpose of whistleblowing for increasing transparency, reducing risks and losses and preventing illegal activities sooner rather than later.
- Position whistleblowing as a reinforcer of the organisation’s core values and code of conduct.
- Embrace whistleblowers, stating that those acting in good faith are deemed to be loyal and courageous.
Help people feel safe
- If possible, allow people to report anonymously, and let people know that they can remain so throughout the follow-up and investigation process.
- Highlight the security aspects of the system, things like encryption of data and data protection, passwords, no traceability to the whistleblowers identity and so on.
- Let people know that they can report anytime, from anywhere, using a device of their choosing.
- Re-assure people that there will be no retaliation for reports made in good faith. For EU-based companies, communicate that this will soon be illegal and incur penalties.
Educate to get the right kind of reports
- Explain which matters count as a whistleblowing case, both legally and in respect of internal organisational policies, versus matters that should be reported via other processes or channels.
- Describe the kind of information to include.
Inform that cases will be processed diligently
- Describe what happens to the reports once they are received.
- Communicate the timeframes in which a whistleblower can expect to receive acknowledgement and feedback. These will be regulated under the new EU Whistleblower Protection Directive.
- Detail the nature of the roles or people that have been assigned to manage reports that are received.
Comply with legal requirements
- According to the EU directive, organisations will be obliged to communicate that a whistleblower can turn to external channels, such as competent authorities, and still be protected for reporting.
- Other national laws may also require organisations to communicate certain related matters in different countries.
Tips on channels for communication
How do you reach out with your whistleblowing-related communication? In addition to regular communication channels, such as the company internet and intranet, organisations should embed messages about the importance of whistleblowing in the company’s employee code of conduct, in materials for induction and other training programmes and team days. A dedicated whistleblowing policy should also be published, and in the case of digital channels, information can be provided in the whistleblowing system itself when people log in.
External stakeholders can be reached through channels such as your organisational website, a supplier code of conduct, customer newsletters, any sustainability report, investor updates and also the annual report.
If you would like more practical guidance on how to implement a whistleblowing system, we recommend you take a look at our easily digestible handbook: 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.