Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica who revealed that Facebook had leaked user information from 87 million accounts, has been recruited by the clothing giant H&M. Wylie will have a strategic position as Research Director, a role that includes helping H&M develop ethical AI.

The whistleblower, a key person in combating unethical behaviour.

Christopher Wylie is just one example of how the perception of whistleblowers has fundamentally changed. In the past we have read about how whistleblowers have been silenced or subjected to retaliation. This attitude is now shifting towards giving whistleblowers a key role in combating unethical behaviour. The new view of people who blow the whistle is that they help in bringing misconduct and unethical behaviour to the surface – and thereby making them easier to address.

A break in the trend of how we view whistleblowers

Whistleblower Wylie’s new career at H&M is a perfect example of a break in the trend. The new image that is emerging is that a whistleblower is a person with the commitment and courage to speak up when necessary. He or she defends the weak or more vulnerable. The #metoo campaign that spread across the world meant many people awoke to the fact that clear boundaries are needed in order to overcome unethical behaviour. This change in attitude has resounded throughout many organisations that want to safeguard transparent and good workplace environments. We are seeing that many of our clients have implemented zero-tolerance for harassment, and we are also seeing that the whistleblowing channel is an important part in demonstrating that they are serious about following up on zero-tolerance compliance.

Strengthened whistleblower protection

We have also seen that lawmakers all over the world are beginning to act, passing laws to strengthen whistleblower protection like never before. One example is the new whistleblowing legislation in Australia. Another example is the French anti-corruption law, Loi Sapin II, that has played a major role in many French companies now having a whistleblowing process in place.

The EU’s new legislative proposal on strengthened whistleblower protection is proof that the EU has fundamentally changed its attitude towards whistleblowing. Anonymous whistleblowing reports were previously questioned, and in some countries, such as Spain, anonymous whistleblowing was prohibited. Today anonymous whistleblowing is permitted, even in Spain, and the new European legislation proposal suggests that companies should set up reporting channels that allow for anonymous reporting.

Anonymity and security are crucial

Even though we have noted a clear change in attitudes toward whistleblowers, anonymity is crucial for many whistleblowers to dare to take the step and raise the alarm. This is where an external supplier such a WhistleB can help to safeguard the anonymity of the whistleblower, for example by not saving IP addresses or other meta data from the whistleblowing message. The whistleblower must be able to feel confident that he or she is truly anonymous. And the organisation receiving the whistleblowing reports needs to trust that the sensitive nature of the information in the whistleblowing report is handled with the highest possible security, and that the system facilitates case processing according to applicable laws.

Other success factors

Apart from a secure and user-friendly system, the most important factor is that the people receiving and handling whistleblowing reports do so correctly. For example, feedback to the whistleblower is important, both for obtaining additional information for the investigation and for giving feedback to the person who submitted the report. This process requires people with relevant knowledge and experience to assess and investigate the case. We are pleased to see that this skill has strengthened dramatically throughout our clients’ ethics & compliance, HR, internal audit and legal departments, as well as amongst the external experts that help with investigations.

The upcoming ISO standard for whistleblowing, ISO 37002, is an important step for businesses and organisations having access to guidance about best practices in successfully implementing a whistleblowing service. WhistleB has been asked to participate in the development of the new ISO standard, and we look forward contributing the experience we’ve gained throughout the years.

Whistleblowing service, a tool for the board

As a provider of whistleblowing services since 2011, we have observed that our clients’ attitudes toward whistleblowing have matured. Today, many of our clients consider their whistleblowing service to be a hygiene factor. Being able to follow up on the organisation’s ethical guidelines with a credible whistleblowing services is now just as important as having a well formulated and communicated Code of Conduct.  We also see that boards of directors are increasingly involved in managing and following up whistleblowing cases. The whistleblowing service is a strategic risk management tool for boards and management teams.

Whistleblowing, for a transparent and open workplace environment

To sum up, we are convinced that this new positive attitude to whistleblowers, from employers, law makers and the media, is important for creating a transparent and open workplace environment, one in which whistleblowers can change unhealthy attitudes and combat unethical behaviour. The recruitment of Christopher Wykie is a fantastic example of a break in the trend – with the whistleblower as the new hero. We will do everything in our power to contribute to this progress with a trustworthy whistleblowing system.

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