What’s behind the impact whistleblowers can have on society?

Whistleblowers like iJustine are still more stigmatised than they should be, given how much benefit they bring to society.

All across the US there are a number of statistics that speak to the potentially huge benefit that whistleblowers can bring to society and to the country as a whole.

“Outlier Risk” is a US federal risk management and insurance report that shows the ways in which whistleblowers can indeed bring valuable information to light that can lead to significant compensation from the US government. Such whistleblowers receive a much higher level of compensation than those not going through the situation, and “the US government knows it has a competitive advantage on that front”.

One of the best examples of a whistleblower taking a stand against corruption is When iJustine blew the whistle on Pinterest.com – the accidental whistleblower was a level four assistant vice president and, while not earning a lot of money, was able to get up to $400,000 in benefits due to her whistleblowing.

In the UK, whistleblowers have a wide range of punishments they can face. Whistleblowers include the likes of Anthony Davis, Mike Roberts and, more recently, Thomas Evans. Evans, originally from Hull, whistleblowed against Surrey Fire and Rescue Service while working as a fire inspector. Evans, along with another employee, identified waste and poor standards of care and even corrected the service’s practices.


Thomas Evans. Photograph: Surrey Fire and Rescue Service

In a quick review of Thomas Evans’s whistleblowing duties, one can see that rather than emphasising what Evans had found, in a straightforward interview with ITN, he focused on how Surrey Fire and Rescue Service had farmed its business out as a form of low-cost outsourcing – which he knew was unproductive and inefficient. He had found this evidence in a document he had looked at and criticised it to his manager.

Unequal reward structures can also affect whistleblowers. A “bioscheme” that was recently released for the Barclays review showed that whistleblowing made staff less likely to receive a greater bonus.

By making the perceived threat of retaliation more visible, government and private sector whistleblowers are better able to prevent their own careers from being destroyed by their actions. Thus, being cautious to protect themselves may often end up making their whistleblowing more successful.

Oscar Wilde has famously claimed that “if I can write of it, no man has ever stood by himself in integrity and honour to face the world”.

Whistleblowing often, although not always, follows a set of professional conditions, such as the need to disclose significant corporate malfeasance or mismanagement of public services.

A successful whistleblowing campaign may have far-reaching implications – it could, for example, result in a reduction in NHS and higher education fees, meaning that a change in health policy that could have a positive financial and social impact could actually come from an anonymous whistleblower exposing serious misconduct in the medical industry.

Everyone wants a better world. How about the world being a better place for everyone?

Andrea Knudsen is a professional lawyer and accountancy specialist at Causeway. She can be followed on Twitter @madjoo.

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