EU Government Looking To Expand, Standardize Whistleblower Protections
from the keeping-the-union-honest dept
Some good news is on the way for European whistleblowers, as Pirate Party member Julia Reda reports. A legal proposal to strengthen and unify whistleblower protections has been published by the European Commission. It does far more than restate existing protections. It expands them to cover the private sector and does away with some (but not all) of the barriers standing in the way of exposing fraud, abuse, and misconduct.
The proposal covers a wide variety of industries and all government entities. It also strips away one key barrier by eliminating the need for whistleblowers to justify their complaints and disclosures. All whistleblowers need is “reasonable grounds to believe” what they’re reporting is true and falls under the coverage provided by the proposal.
Confidentiality is required and protections — both from civil and criminal charges — are part of the proposal. The proposal also suggests whistleblowers should be given police protection if called to testify in criminal cases resulting from their whistleblowing.
But it’s not all good news. The Greens/EFA fact sheet [PDF] on the proposal notes a few areas need improvement. To begin with, confidentiality is supposedly guaranteed but the proposal does not allow for the possibility of anonymous reporting. In addition, whistleblowers won’t be afforded protections unless they take their complaints through proper channels, no matter how badly that might turn out for the would-be whistleblower.
Julia Reda uses the example of Antoine Deltour, a PriceWaterhouseCooper employee who exposed corporate tax evasion schemes participated in by the Luxembourg government. According to the rules put in place by this proposal, Deltour would have had to take his complaints to his employer and the same government he exposed as complicit in tax evasion. There is an outlet for going directly to the press, but it hinges on post-whistleblowing fact finding, which could still result in arrests and criminal charges before everything is sorted out. This happened to Deltour, who was convicted of stealing trade secrets before a Luxembourg court declared his actions whistleblowing.
The report [PDF] backing the proposal gives several more examples of how whistleblowing has saved lives, not just public funds.
The public disclosure by Dr. Jiang Yanyong, which revealed the gravity of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus to the public in 2003, is an example of whistleblowing that potentially saved millions of lives. According to the World Health Organization the SARS outbreak led to 8,098 cases and 774 deaths.
It was an employee of Eternit, a Swiss manufacturer of roofing and panelling material, who helped launch an investigation into the lack of compliance with health and safety regulations and negligence at Eternit’s Italian manufacturing operation in 1970 and 1980s, estimated to have led to more than 2,000 asbestos-related deaths of workers, their families and local residents.
Broader protections, applied consistently is the plan. And it’s (mostly) a good one. Unfortunately, it’s bound to run into heavy resistance on its way to becoming EU law. There’s nothing in this for corrupt corporations and government agencies, both of which rely on each other to remain free of public accountability.