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Do not use the term Whistleblower in your compliance programme!

The term whistleblower is widely used in today’s society. The usage of the term is common practice in many corporate compliance programmes and it is incorporated in various laws and regulations. Examples are The House for Whistleblowers Act in the Netherlands, or the recently adopted “Directive on the Protection of persons reporting on breaches of Union law”, more commonly known as the “EU Whistleblower Protection Directive”.

But what is your first association with being a whistleblower? The notorious actions of ‘Deep Throat’, who provided critical information that exposed former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate Scandal perhaps? Or maybe Cynthia Cooper, Sherron Watkins or Coleen Rowley, whose acts jointly made them Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2002?

Or is it more in line with Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, whose revelations resulted in a life of hiding and the fear of being extradited to the United States? Although their publications are praised by many, it is unlikely that you would like to stand in their shoes.

European culture, formed by the various occupations throughout history, also weighs in on the negative connotation of the term whistleblower. Have you ever put the term in a thesaurus? Snitch, betrayer, backstabber, blabbermouth, troublemaker and scandalmonger are not the phrases  that you would like to be associated with.

Why is it then that in today’s compliance programmes, the term ‘whistleblower’ is so broadly used? A possible explanation is that it has been inadvertently interchanged with the concept of ‘speaking up’, by which employees are encouraged to report ethical violations or a breach of an organisation’s Code of Conduct.

When writing your internal reporting policies, you have one chance and one chance only. Think carefully about how to address your employees and make sure that you don’t scare them away. No one wants to be a snitch who talks about their colleagues. In the end, it is about the creation of a SpeakUp culture. A safe environment where your employees can voice their concerns, without becoming a whistleblower!

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