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Why are whistleblowers important?

2024-07-18 10:40:40 Miscellaneous


After the Panamas papers, Dieselgate, Luxleaks, and WikiLeaks, no one denies the beneficial effect of whistleblowers on society.

A whistleblower is a person who, in the context of his employment relationship, reveals or reports a situation, highlighting illegal or dangerous behavior which constitutes a threat to man, the economy, society, the state, or the environment, that is to say for the common good, the general interest.

Whistleblowers have thus contributed to the betterment of citizens and made it possible to prevent scandals and tragedies, to preserve public goods as well as human lives and more generally contribute to the proper functioning of democracy.

They are the last resort when controls are failing, and they play a fundamental role in the fight against corruption. They are very often the target of intimidation, threats, and reprisals: dismissal, defamation lawsuits, harassment.

The alert concerns the reveal of information on activities which constitute a threat or harm to the general interest. People raise an alert because they believe that these activities should be stopped or that remedial measures should be taken. Often it is simply a matter of informing employers of improper behavior which they are unaware of and which they hasten to correct. In other cases, whistleblowers may find it necessary to contact regulatory or supervisory bodies or the relevant law enforcement authorities.

Sometimes whistleblowers will want to publicize such wrongdoing, most often not through the internet and other media, or by contacting public interest groups or parliamentarians.

The whistleblower reports violations either to someone inside his organization or to an external organization (that is, inspectors of supervisory agencies, law enforcement agencies, or the media). In some countries, including the United States, the informant can independently file a claim for the misappropriation of public funds and, in the case of a positive decision of the instance, claim a part of the money collected from the defendant.

Protection for whistleblower

While whistleblowing is valuable for the preservation of the rule of law and if it is an instrument for deepening democracy, whistleblowers should not be discouraged by the fear of reprisals, whatever the form they take. These can include criminal prosecution for defamation or violation of certain state secrets, unfair dismissal, harassment, or any other discriminatory treatment, sanctions, etc.

Hence the mobilization, both at the national and international level, to imagine and put in place the legal instruments likely to provide them with protection against such reprisals.

Many countries have legislation that encourages citizens to report various violations to the authorities. Somewhere the matter is limited to the protection of whistleblowers and the opportunity to be proud of the averted offense, and somewhere they receive quite a decent part of the funds saved as a result of the measures taken.

The number of countries which have adopted protective legislation is estimated at around sixty. There are around sixty today. Sweden is always cited as having been a pioneer in this area since whistleblowers are protected thereby by a law of 1766 on freedom of the press, which guarantees the right of access to information, including official documents, and freedom of speech. The United States adopted the Whistleblower Protection Act in 1989, then strengthened it in 2007, the United Kingdom the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) in 1998, amended several times thereafter. The IRS whistleblowers provisions in the US, contained in Section 406 of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 allows the IRS to reward whistleblowers.

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