Defined broadly, a whistleblower is a person who reports on an individual or organization engaged in wrongdoing. Often, the whistleblower reports on illegal, unethical, or corrupt behavior in their place of work.
Outcomes for society
Whistleblowers are a crucial part of the anti-corruption movement as the first step in confronting corruption is exposing it. In the past, the courageous acts of whistleblowers have led to new legislation requiring better transparency and accountability in publicly traded companies. Information from whistleblowers on illegal or unethical surveillance by authorities has led to increased efforts by companies to protect consumer privacy. Whistleblower revelations have also prevented dangerous drugs from being approved for use. In short, whistleblowers can provide a great service to society by revealing the truth about illegal or unethical behaviour within a company or government body.
Outcomes for the whistleblower
Whistleblowers are sometimes rewarded for telling the truth. In countries as diverse as the United States, South Korea, Ghana and Pakistan whistleblowers may receive a financial reward if the information they reveal helps the government recover funds. Also, many whistleblowers take personal satisfaction knowing they have done the right thing by revealing illegal, unethical, or unsafe actions that would otherwise harm society.
In many countries, however, whistleblowing can have serious negative consequences for the individual making the disclosures. It can lead to social and professional isolation and retaliation against the whistleblower. In some cases, people who have exposed government and corporate misdeeds have suffered drastic consequences, including legal repercussions and the loss of their careers and relationships. In some parts of the world, state secrecy laws make whistleblowing illegal, even when done in the public interest.
Anyone considering becoming a whistleblower should inform themselves of the various possible outcomes before making their decision to blow the whistle.
How you can help – show solidarity with whistleblowers
The most effective way to protect and support whistleblowers is to bring them out of isolation. Isolation typically undermines those disclosing information, but when the public rallies around whistleblowers, they are empowered and can make an impact by revealing the truth.
If you believe whistleblowers should have better legal protections, you can speak out by joining solidarity campaigns on social media and signing petitions. And, you can talk to your friends and family about why you think they should do the same.
Blowing the whistle – where do you start?
Are you thinking about blowing the whistle? First, find out what legal protection you will have if you blow the whistle. For example, blowing the whistle in some countries can make you vulnerable to losing your job, but in other countries, legislation prevents your employer from firing you in retaliation for whistleblowing. Find out if such legislation exists where you live.
Currently, 29 countries have dedicated whistleblower laws. Thirteen of these ensure whistleblowers’ rights in a broad sense, beyond the employment context. Even among these, many have significant loopholes related to national security and law enforcement.
Find an NGO in your area that can offer guidance and support on blowing the whistle. The Whistleblowing International Network offers a listing of NGOs as well as additional resources.
Resources for Whistleblowers
Survival tips – the Government Accountability Project has compiled a list of things to think about and do before you blow the whistle. Read it here:
Reporting by region
Several countries have regulatory bodies and civil society organizations related to whistleblowing in the public and private sectors. Below is a non-exhaustive sampling of organizations that may be able to provide further information about a specific whistleblowing situation. The organizations below are included for informational purposes only and should not be understood as endorsements.
International Whistleblower Organizations
Whistler app – a toolkit for front line activists, human rights defenders and citizen journalists.
GlobaLeaks – an open-source whistleblowing framework that can be used by media organizations, activist groups, public agencies, and corporations.