Study Results: Whistleblowing Not a Trend, But a New Standard



Karin Henriksson
Founding Partner and Senior Advisor

During the last year, whistleblowers were frequently featured in international media. News agencies covered exposures of wrongdoings, such as the Panama Papers, #metoo and LuxLeaks. There is an increasing recognition of the value of whistleblowing as a means of addressing misconduct. Also, a growing number of countries are putting legislation in place aimed at protecting whistleblowers. For example, the European Commission proposed a new law this year to strengthen whistleblower protection across the EU.

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WhistleB, a whistleblowing and compliance organization based in Sweden, conducted a customer study this past August. This article summarizes the main findings of questions that were sent to 200 companies, authorities and other organizations using whistleblowing systems. Most of these organizations are headquartered in Europe, but many are international. Here are some of the findings from our study:

  1. Whistleblowing is becoming more popular within companies
    Organizations indicated that they had received a significantly higher number of whistleblowing reports compared to earlier years. On average, organizations received 1 message per 400 employees per year. This is motivating organizations to implement professional whistleblowing channels that allow for efficient and secure reporting of misconduct. More and more organizations are also widening the group of people who are offered access to their whistleblowing channel to include external groups, such as suppliers and customers.

  2. Financial irregularities and workplace-related abuses are frequent reporting topics
    Whistleblowing has often been related to matters of fraud and financial wrongdoings. This type of misconduct remains an important part of incoming whistleblowing reports, however the customer study showed that organizations received a growing number of reports concerning workplace-related abuse, such as (sexual) harassment, discrimination and other unethical behavior. It seems obvious that the social movement supporting whistleblowers to speak up is strengthening the belief that wrongdoing may be based on other motives than pecuniary advantage.

  3. Online reporting marginalizes telephone hotline use
    Online whistleblowing channels accounted for most of all whistleblowing reports received (approximately 90%). With the ever-expanding number of smartphones with internet access, whistleblowers clearly favor online reporting to the traditional telephone hotline. Despite evolving telephone reporting technologies such as interactive voice response (IVR), whistleblowers overwhelmingly choose to report online in written form. Ever stricter legal frameworks, such as the GDPR, are strong incentives for organizations to focus on data protection and security.

Outlook: the way is up for whistleblowing
The customer study points out that no evidence was found to support the concern that offering an accessible whistleblowing channel would lead to receiving a lot of spam, irrelevant messages, reports made in bad faith or other negative reactions from employees. The organizations surveyed indicated that most of all whistleblower reports received led to investigations, and some remarked that the information obtained through whistleblowing channels would be very hard, if not impossible, to receive in other ways.

In light of the developments in the field of compliance, both on a legal and ethical level, these findings indicate that organizational whistleblowing is not a trend, but the new standard that is here to stay.