When the G-20 summit gets underway in Australia this November, one of the issues that could be addressed by leaders of many of the world’s largest economies is greater protection for whistleblowers.
In anticipation of the summit, a recent study has found that most of the whistleblower protection laws in the G20 nations do not meet international standards. These laws are supposed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.
The study, called “The Whistleblower Protection Rules in G20 Countries: The Next Action Plan” was released this week. It comes four years after the G20 nations committed that by 2012, whistleblowers would have “safe, reliable reporting avenues for reporting corruption, fraud and other crimes,” according to a statement connected with the study.
“Despite significant advances in some areas, as a whole they have fallen short of meeting this commitment. Many G20 countries’ whistleblower protection laws fail to meet international standards, and fall significantly short of best practices,” the report claims.
The report provides scores for G20 nations’ laws on different criteria for the protection of whistleblowers.
In addition, Suelette Dreyfus, a co-author of the study and a teacher at the University of Melbourne in Australia, said there are four areas that need improvement: internal and external disclosure avenues, protection for employees to anonymously report wrongdoing, an independent investigative body for whistleblowers’ disclosures and complaints, and transparent and accountable application of whistleblower laws.
“Whistleblowing is widely accepted as an effective way to expose misconduct, dishonesty and illegal activity in the public and private spheres,” Dreyfus said in a statement. “Technology enables things like anonymous and confidential reporting of fraud and corruption.”
Also, Simon Wolfe, a University of Melbourne Law School visiting scholar and another co-author of the report, said, “The G20, as the largest economies in the world, can and should be at the forefront of whistleblower protection legislation. Hopefully this report will highlight where countries are doing well and where there is room for improvement.”
The report points out that wrongdoing can lead to wasting of taxpayer money, dangerous consumer products, dangers to public health, financial instability and environmental concerns. Whistleblowing can prevent such situations from occurring.
But without legal protection, employees of government agencies or businesses who report wrongdoing to managers or regulators may end up getting fired or harassed, the report said.
“With employees deterred from coming forward, government and corporate misconduct can be perpetuated,” the report warned.
The report also wants enacted: a three-tiered system of reporting channels, such as the media, members of Parliament, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and labor unions; channels to let those who know about corruption the ability to meet with auditors or regulators; and improved internal disclosure procedures.
In addition the report said whistleblower protection should be a “key priority” for G20 leaders’ “integrity and anti-corruption commitments.”
The report did say that “some meaningful progress” was made in the whistleblower laws of such nations as Australia, China, France, India, the Republic of Korea and the United States.
Among the findings on the United States, the report said that there was “inconsistency between multiple laws, especially in the corporate sector.” It is a concern “to many US NGOs, stakeholders and regulators.” In fact, whistleblower protection rules were found in 47 different federal laws, including 12 new laws since 2000, in the private sector, not including federal and state public sector laws. Also, many NGOs want to see stronger U.S. legal protections for whistleblowers. Current laws that regulate the corporate sector include Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank in the United States. Under current law, the Securities and Exchange Commission protects whistleblowers against retaliation, InsideCounsel reported.
When it comes to whistleblowers in the U.S. government, some loopholes were eliminated in 2012 by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.