What can companies do to set up an effective whistleblowing system?
I was recently interviewed by the Swedish online news channel SvD (link). The background to the interview was that despite warnings from employees and the presence of a whistleblowing function, high profile cases of corporate scandals still occur. It seems that no companies are without risk. Which is why the interviewer asked, how should companies set up their whistleblowing system so that it really has an impact?
We can’t give any guarantee as to the effect of the company’s whistleblowing system once it leaves our hands, but we always give our customers this advice:
1. See the whistleblowing system as part of a bigger whole
A whistleblowing system is just one tool in the kit that companies should deploy in their corporate responsibility work. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having a well-established corporate responsibility platform first and foremost.
Work with the company’s core values, communicate them and create clear guidelines for your employees. Essentially, this is the platform that employees can stand firmly on when they face ethical dilemmas, when the boundaries between right and wrong aren’t obvious. Support your employees with guidelines that reflect the situations that you know they risk coming up against.
2. Compile the right group to receive alarm reports
This is an important group because it decides when a message should lead to an investigation and brings the appropriate competences, internal and external, into the investigation process. So carefully consider who should be a member of the team. It should include people from compliance, HR, internal audit for example, and we strongly recommend that a member of the board is in the team.
Once the ethical platform is in place, and the right team assembled, the board can offer a whistleblowing service and communicate it as part of the company’s social responsibility and a way to follow up on the guidelines.