Policy Officer Laura Fatah represented Protect as a panellist at online event ‘To blow the whistle or not? A symposium on complicity and compliance in economic and social wrongdoing’ hosted by the University of York scholars James Killen, Zoë Porter, and whistleblower Ian Foxley. The event showcased the latest research in the field of whistleblowing and provided a platform to discuss ideas on whistleblower law reform.
Research findings were presented by James Killen and Ian Foxley, with insightful presentations from Kevin Hollinrake MP, Prof Emanuela Ceva and Dr Lorenzo Pasculli.
A key topic of debate for the panel – which included Baroness Kramer, Prof John Blenkinsopp, Prof Emanuela Ceva, Prof Marianna Fotaki, Prof Kate Kenny, Dr Lorenzo Pasculli, Prof Iain Munro and Laura Fatah – was the Office of the Whistleblower Bill, put forward by Baroness Kramer as a private members bill in the House of Lords. Protect welcome Baroness Kramer’s expression of support for reform of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998; in addition to her Office for the Whistleblower bill.
Many agreed that the bill presented by Baroness Kramer was a welcome initiation bringing light on the need for legal reform. Panelists expressed a view that whistleblowers deserve better outcomes, and that the law can, and must, be improved to support this goal. Key issues raised in relation to the Office of the Whistleblower were its source of funding, how independence from government could be established and maintained, and the practicalities of which department such a body would be housed in.
Contributors spoke of the critical need for a cultural shift in how whistleblowers are perceived, responded to, and treated. Prof John Blenkinsopp spoke of the ‘PR’ responses that companies so often have to whistleblowing situations, where an individual who speaks up may be hounded out of a career; when the easier, responsible, and far more effective approach would be for the company to thank the individual and rationally address the issue which they have raised.
Dr Lorenzo Pasculli spoke of the conflicting interests of the public versus those of corporations. Corporations are commercial entities which seek to make a profit above all else; whereas public interests include societal values and public safety. Combining Blenkinsopp’s and Pasculli’s findings, it is apparent that for corporations and companies to reach the point where they voluntarily embrace whistleblowing the commercial benefits of doing so must be clear, in addition to the potential risks of ignoring whistleblowers. Companies who do admit fault and seek to improve will fare far better in terms of consumer loyalty than those who deny any wrongdoing and instead seek to crush and attack whistleblowers.
This speaks to Prof Kate Kenny’s point that it is necessary to look beyond the law and view these issues in a wider economic and ideological context. For laws to be more than merely ‘cardboard shields’, the bodies which enforce them must be properly funded and effectively overseen. Kenny illustrates that regulatory weakness is not inevitable: “History shows us that when regulatory authorities are well funded and have political support to effectively sanction (such as with the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s in the US which resulted in over 800 prosecutions) they can become a true force for change and present a genuine deterrent to future wrongdoers.”
Protect are keen to continue collaborating with all contributors who participated in the event, to identify how improvements to the landscape for whistleblowers might best be achieved; to seek solutions and learn from examples of best practice internationally.