The European Union's Whistleblower Directive has encountered a spectrum of implementations across member states, underscoring the persistent divisions on this crucial subject. From criticisms of low fines in France to Poland's proposal of three years of imprisonment for violations, the disparities reveal the ongoing challenges in achieving a unified approach. In Portugal, the requirement for internal reporting clashes with the directive, while the Netherlands takes a comprehensive stance, mandating oral, written, and anonymous channels for whistleblowing.
Discussions at the Compliance Week’s Europe conference in London delved into the potential for businesses to establish their own standards on whistleblowing amid the evolving compliance landscape. Noshin Khan, senior compliance counsel at OneTrust, urged companies to exceed minimal requirements, stating, "Instead of following the minimal, go for the people who have gone beyond and look at what you want from them."
Implementation challenges are amplified as many countries, including Estonia and Poland, grapple with whistleblowing for the first time. Anna Myers, executive director of the Whistleblowing International Network, highlighted the diverse approaches countries are taking, with some opting for a minimalist tick-box approach. She noted the inherent learning curve, stating, "Countries themselves are dealing with that."
Despite nearly two years passing since the directive's transposition deadline, Estonia and Poland remain without finalized laws. Other countries, including Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and Sweden, have only recently completed their legislation. Myers underscored the knowledge gap, noting that companies often possess more insights into whistleblowing than the authorities enforcing the laws.
The directive permits external reporting of concerns, emphasizing the importance of companies providing clear information to employees on such activities. Khan stressed that employees prefer internal resolution of complaints, and companies should ensure employees feel heard and supported.
Geert Vermeulen, CEO of The Integrity Coordinator, emphasized the need to inform employees of their legal protections, going beyond the typical safeguards granted for coming forward. The overarching goal of the directive is to establish consistent whistleblower protections across the EU, with companies and senior executives facing discipline for noncompliance.
Myers urged a shift in perspective, viewing potential whistleblowers as allies rather than threats. She emphasized that early awareness of risks is crucial, stating, "If you are going to be held to account for the risks that you’re running into and face the music on that, you want to know early. Your staff are your resource." As the directive continues to unfold, the challenges and opportunities for companies to shape their speak-up culture remain pivotal in navigating this complex regulatory landscape.
By fLEXI tEAM