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Significance and risks of whistleblowing in the corporate world

Risks of whistleblowing - intelligence & risk solutions
Risks of whistleblowing

Whistleblowing involves the disclosure of information about wrongdoing or corruption committed within, or by, organisations. The exposure of wrongdoing allows for accountability to be taken by organisations, helping to maintain corporate integrity. Failure to expose corruption can mean organisations continuously get away with bad behaviour and misconduct, but the risks of whistleblowing are naturally front of mind for many.

The risks of whistleblowing

The risks of whistleblowing often equate to a threat to the livelihoods and careers of those pursuing action, and sometimes their own safety can be an issue when deciding to voice concerns. People like Jonathan Magson and Dr Rosalind Ranson lost their careers as a result of whistleblowing about wrongdoing occurring within the organisations they were employed in.

Supermarket whistleblowing

Recently there has been a spike in the number of whistleblowing cases, mainly related to issues within major UK retailers. 100 GMB union members working at an Asda store in Gosport began historic industrial action last month due to health and safety concerns, and a work culture described as ‘toxic’.

Asda whistleblowing policy

Asda whistleblowing policy - intelligence & risk solutions

The Asda whistleblowing policy allows concerns to be raised via an ethics helpline, open 24 hours a day. Asda say they train their colleagues to recognise and speak up about inappropriate conduct. The Asda ‘Statement of Ethics’ outlines that any whistleblowing colleagues should not face retaliation as a result of raising questions about misconduct.

Tesco whistleblowing policy

Asda whistleblowing policy explained - intelligence & risk solutions

Similarly, the Tesco whistleblowing policy also encourages all employees to speak up about wrongdoing, with any colleague who raises concerns being ‘protected from retaliation’. In 2017, a Tesco whistleblower, Amit Soni, gave evidence about fraud and false accounting that had occurred within the business. However, the trial was aborted and those accused were acquitted.

Recent major whistleblowing cases

Jonathan Zarembok, a BP oil trader, was fired from his job after he raised concerns about potential bribes being paid to local agents in Nigeria, during BP’s dealings with the country’s state-owned oil producer NNPC.

Zarembok subsequently lost an employment lawsuit against BP, after a tribunal ruled he wasn’t entitled to whistleblower protections. The tribunal determined that his whistleblowing activities did not count as “protected disclosures” as his concerns showed that wrongdoing was possible, rather than likely.

Under UK whistleblowing legislation, employees who make disclosures should believe they are acting in the public interest. The tribunal ruled that Jonathan Zarembok did not raise his concerns as a public interest issue, instead raising it following a disagreement about potential employee benefits post his return from paternity leave.

Another recent whistleblowing case involved Dr Rosalind Ranson, a medical director on the Isle of Man during the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr Ranson won a £3.2million payout after an employment tribunal ruled she was treated in a way that was “demeaning” and “unjustifiable” following her airing concerns over the handling of the pandemic on the island.

Dr Rosalind Ranson emailed her boss, Kathryn Magson, the chief executive of the Isle of Man’s Department of Health, in the early hours of March 25th 2020, questioning whether key information advising the necessity for urgent action had been passed onto the Isle of Man’s government.

Kathryn Magson didn’t respond to the email, and judges described a period of “torrid humiliation” that followed, which is one of the major risks of whistleblowing associated with cases like these.

The tribunal heard that Dr Ranson was repeatedly side-lined on major decisions, and humiliated by Magson.

The £3.2million payment won by Dr Rosalind Ranson, against the Isle of Man government, is the single largest payout for a whistleblowing case for the British Medical Association. Kathryn Magson denied the bullying allegations, however, and the BBC recently discovered that she is still working as an advisor for the NHS.

Effective whistleblowing policies

Effective whistleblowing policies should explain what whistleblowing is, what protections are afforded to whistleblowers, and set out how concerns should be raised. It should also outline the legal protections and restrictions around whistleblowing.

Employees should be able to report misconduct confidentially, and anonymously if they wish, and they should be able to report wrongdoing on both internal and external channels.

Effective whistleblowing policies should be clear, simple, and easy to understand. It should encourage employees to speak up about potential wrongdoing, and give reassurances that they won’t face retaliation for voicing concerns.

Why you should implement whistleblowing policies

By implementing a whistleblowing policy, organisations show their commitment to transparency, and allow for information and concerns about wrongdoing to potentially be brought forward before reputational damage is caused.

Ethical practices within businesses should be encouraged and supported, to ensure that accountability can be taken over any wrongdoing.

In order to maintain corporate integrity, organisations should establish or strengthen their whistleblowing policies, and make them clear and visible to all employees.

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