World Whistleblowers Day celebrates the courage of people who come forward to speak out
against wrongdoing or malpractice. In 2019, a group of NGOs working as part of the South East Europe Coalition created the day to raise global awareness in combating corruption. They advocate relentlessly for comprehensive whistleblower rights and stronger protection against retaliation.
Celebrated on June 23rd each year, World Whistleblowers Day shines a light on whistleblowers and their role in fighting corruption and maintaining national security. For their bravery, often at grave personal and professional risks, their stories deserve global recognition.
Whistleblowing: Then and Now
The term “whistleblower” goes back to 19th Century England, referring to policemen who used whistles to alert citizens about riots or crimes. Today, it has come to mean a person who exposes illegal or unethical activity within an organization. While the first whistleblowing legislation in America involved checking military excesses, the laws have expanded to include activities against the public interest, national security and company rules, as well as fraud and corruption.
The social perception of whistleblowers is ambiguous at best and verges on hostility at its worst. Despite putting their lives on the line for the greater good, some view them as traitors seeking personal glory.
Now more than ever, the world needs to come together to support anyone raising concerns about organizational or systemic wrongdoing. Legal protection for whistleblowing differs vastly from one country to the next. Most countries have virtually non-existent laws to safeguard whistleblowers.
Throughout history, whistleblower disclosures created tremendous impact and ensured accountability by organizations and governments. More recently, individuals have come forward to disclose COVID-related unethical practices or blow the whistle on environmental crimes. Whistleblowers have also been instrumental in exposing the misuse of public funds.
Developments in Whistleblowing Protection Across the World
A recent European Union directive assures protection to over half a billion people for reporting wrongdoing at work. Member States of the EU have until October 2021 to translate these directives into laws – a step towards putting into effect a universal set of standards to guarantee protection for people who speak out. So far, only seven of the twenty-seven countries have taken action.
Australia has directed private companies to “proactively” implement protections for whistleblowers. Eventually, the hope is for these directives to apply to government organizations as well.
“Whistleblower protection is only successful when civil society is fully engaged, keeping authorities accountable for their actions,” said Anna Myers, the Executive Director of WIN.
In a statement, The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) has urged the Nigerian government to pass a whistleblower protection law. Although the country has a whistleblower policy, it does not contain any provisions for whistleblower protection. Other African countries such as Uganda, South Africa, and Ghana already have formal whistleblower protection laws.
Due to sustained efforts by a concerned international community, more people today are aware of the importance of whistleblowing. Since its inception in 2019, World Whistleblowing Day has slowly but steadily gained tremendous traction.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only reiterated the urgent need for transparency. Only through international cooperation can we ensure that institutions, both public and private, remain accountable during this crisis and beyond.