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WIN Conference: Sharing lessons, celebrating good practice

The Whistleblowing International Network  (WIN) brought together experts from across the world to share best practice at its first annual conference in Glasgow this September.  Delegates, including Protect, heard some amazing case studies of how civil society groups can support whistleblowers and address very serious concerns.  

The Government Accountancy Project (GAP) in the US supported doctors raising concerns about foreseeable harm from the detention of immigrants, pulling together an alliance of human rights and medical supporters and advocating for reform in the press and Congress. Transparency International in Ireland supported police officers raising concerns about corruption in the transport police (many people were phoning police friends requesting penalty points to be removed, including those penalised for drink driving or driving without a license).  The uncovering of corruption led to the departure of the Chief of Police and to major changes in police oversight.

In Serbia, Pistaljka combined journalism with legal expertise to support a doctor who raised concerns that funeral directors were appearing at family homes in advance of the emergency services, and that resuscitation of some seriously ill people wasn’t happening because the funeral directors had bribed the emergency services.  After years of denial and threats to the doctor, he has eventually been vindicated and is honoured as a hero in his country.

Those involved in lobbying for the EU whistleblowing directive explained their experience – how an alliance of trade unions and NGOs – not used to working so closely – came together, with the necessary support from generous funding bodies, to deliver what seemed initially impossible. Tom Devine of GAP described the successful passage of the directive as the “happiest battle in 40 years” of campaigning for whistleblowing change. Luxleaks whistleblower Antoine Deltour joined us by video link and explained the Luxleaks experience.  Former MEP Virginie Roziere explained how important his case was to the language in the final directive – the opportune timing of the case meant Parliamentarians could ask “would this have protected Antoine?”.

Delegates were also warned that there is more to do – getting laws in place is a necessary but not sufficient condition for good whistleblowing practice and transposing the EU directive (rolling out the EU Directive into law) now needs 27 (or 28!) effective campaigns across each member state to ensure that best practice, not a minimum standard, is implemented.

Break out groups  – including one led by Protect’s own Cathy James – discussed advice services and shared their frustration about the lack of legal support available to those who want to bring claims. Whistleblowers need not just legal support, but also a wide range of other support – as the impact on family, finances, health and wellbeing should not be underestimated.  Those who are working with employers – as Protect does – have developed new models.  In Slovakia, private sector employers pledge their support not just to best practice, but also to help public sector whistleblowers get back into work through job coaching and offering interviews.  This model was developed because employers listened to whistleblowers about their needs.  Working with employers was seen as vital work – though not without its challenges, asavoiding any conflicts of interest is critical.

A session on working with journalists heard from Nigeria’s Corruption Anonymous which brings together journalists and civil society groups and provides a platform for whistleblowers.  Journalists agree to work together on investigating stories rather than compete for publication.  The collective approach can also protect journalists from retaliation, with the byline being the coalition – not the individual.  Other groups were educating journalists on the use of encrypted technology to better protect their sources.  We learnt about Globaleaks –  a platform of digital drop boxes being used across the world – which allows the uploading of information anonymously via the Torr network –  but with the possibility of going back to the whistleblower for further questions during an investigation.  Mostly this is used to link journalists and whistleblowers, but at least one civil society group that supports whistleblowers receives information through this network.

Across the world, how we report whistleblowing, encourage employers and support the whistleblower is changing.  Technology doesn’t offer all the answers, and too many whistleblowers still suffer appalling detriment when speaking out.  But sharing the lessons and celebrating good practice made the WIN conference uplifting and inspiring.

By Protect Legal Officer, Liz Gardiner