The Value of a Centralised SpeakUp Programme

If you are reading this blog, it could very well be that you are in charge of your organisation’s SpeakUp Programme. How can you as an organisation best accommodate your employees and external parties to raise a concern? Should reports be received by a confidant at the end of the corridor, or all the way up in the organisation? Triggered by recent legal developments, the concept of a centralised SpeakUp set-up is in the spotlight. A good reason for us as People Intouch to use our voice.

Back in the day, when we started approaching the market with our SpeakUp® system, we made a clear choice not just to sell a product, but to also always help organisations make the right choices when designing their governance and message handling structures. The right choices in a sense that the structure would contribute to having an effective internal speakup safety net in place.

One of our golden rules was – and still is today – “central intake, decentral handling”. With this, we point to the advantages of creating a centralised house of expertise, being in control at headquarter level and trying to seek out de-centralised experts to handle the case. De-central can refer to location, but it can also refer to specialist handling.

A central set-up slowly came to be the standard and the logical thing to do. Only those organisations who did not yet have the resources at a central level would choose local solutions – always with the idea to switch over to central level, when ready.

Developments in the legal landscape helped for the preference for central approach:

Around 2004 we witnessed the broader European corporate environment slowly getting acquainted with internal whistleblowing schemes. Those were the first years after the enactment of the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX, 2002), on good governance and accounting. SOX was the driving force which made internal whistleblowing schemes come to Europe. Initially through the European entities of companies listed to the New York Stock Exchange, but soon also other companies followed. Whistleblowing protection and anonymous reporting were given a prominent role in SOX. Why? This was because of the role employees had played in the scandals leading up to SOX: as victims, but also as silent witnesses, who knew about the irregularities but did not speak up. SOX urged organisations to be in control and centralised whistleblowing was part of this. Eight years after SOX we witnessed renewed attention among European businesses towards the value of centralised reporting systems, when the UK Bribery Law came into force and internal whistleblowing schemes were listed as adequate anti-corruption measures.

So, all this together has made that in the past years we have hardly had to convince any international operating corporations of the benefits of having a centralised SpeakUp approach. It came to be a common understanding among experts and people in the field.

Now, in 2021, the transposition proces of the EU Whistleblowing Directive, has slightly changed this. (Note that we will write more about the specific interpretation and how to go about it. In the meanwhile feel free to contact us to hear our opinion.)

Reason to remind everyone why a centralised SpeakUp system is the way to go:
  • A centralised SpeakUp system gives local employees and other stakeholders a way to bypass hierarchy. They can address headquarters who can subsequently step in to put an end to local wrongdoing. This a crucial step before an employee decides to ‘exit’ or to report in the public sphere. Please be mindful of the notion that reporting in the public sphere is something truly burdensome for a ‘whistleblower’ – employees should be protected against such an ultimate remedial.
  • A centralised SpeakUp system facilitates that whistleblower reports and whistleblowers will be dealt with and protected in a universal way: There is no difference between the ethical treatment of a whistleblower from Italy, China, the Netherlands or Turkey, for instance. It thus contributes to whistleblowing protection.
  • A centralised SpeakUp system enables expertise on how to deal with issues and whistleblower reports in the best, safe and confidential manner. It is a very delicate and difficult practice. Humans are involved so humans can get hurt. The more experience, the better the execution, the safer it becomes.
  • A centralised SpeakUp system creates corporate overview, giving insights on ethical risks and makes it possible to build preventive and learning programs.
  • A centralised SpeakUp system allows companies to report on activity to internal and external stakeholders (authorities). They can demonstrate being in control.
  • A centralised SpeakUp system which has a unique entry point, makes the process simple for the person speaking up. The element of simplicity and not having several entry points is crucial in lowering the barrier to report and, in the end, to protect the whistleblower.
  • A centralised SpeakUp system never forbids any concerned employee to start a dialogue or to raise a concern at a local level.

As mentioned, the transposition proces of the EU Whistleblowing Directive, has given reason for corporations to question the centralised speakup set-up. We are convinced that a centralised set-up is a great good. A centralised approach will better protect the organisation, its stakeholders and mostly: the whistleblower. We are glad to see that a lot of organisations are thinking in the same way.

(Note that we will write more about the specific interpretation and how to go about it. In the meanwhile feel free to contact us to hear our opinion.)

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