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Whistleblowing and Professional Responsibility: Time to Converge?

by Michel Dessaigne

There are two opposite currents in the area of whistleblowing: one upholding the full application of the accountability principle, the other seeking protection against accusations without grounds. IRESCA proposes to untangle this issue, more complicated than it appears to be …

Photo: Alerte bleue by Grégory Cassiau

Allowing and framing the act of revealing facts that may be a risk to people, to companies, to the environment, and to the values of society should be considered as a source of progress for our gaining in responsibility.

It is difficult, however, to change the law and practices such that they will guarantee protection to whistleblowers as well as those who are involved in the risks being revealed.

Ethics versus simply complying with standards?

History makes it possible, in part, to explain this difficulty. The ethics of engineers have driven them to be concerned about the risks connected to the technical applications of their knowledge. Financial abuse has motivated control and compliance with regulations. These two strong trends have regrouped around sometimes divergent concerns. Unions, organizations, and professional organizations have joined engineers and managers in their search for better protection against dangers, injustices, and sufferings. Financial regulations have led companies to adapt their operations, sometimes in search of authentic improvement in their practices, sometimes to simply comply with minimum standards.

The fact remains that these “two worlds” are still finding it hard to communicate. The obstacles are still significant: fear of “denouncement,” suspicion of protection procedures “imported” by company management, fear of losing market shares by allowing problems to be revealed or by putting difficulties “out there” that companies think they can solve in-house, etc.

Protecting whistleblowers … and their possible victims

Notwithstanding, under the pressure of public opinion, given the dysfunctions of the financial markets, and thanks to legal precedents for whistleblowing procedures that have been fine tuned, significant progress has been made (interstate organizations, international union organizations, professional branches, etc.). [1]

There is general agreement that what could be qualified, a bit simplistically, as the “ethical” current and the “complying with standards” one should converge, but the practical difficulties of doing so cannot be ignored.

To facilitate this convergence, IRESCA has placed among its priority actions the protection of whistleblowers (and, of course, of everyone involved—including those who might be its victims if accusations should prove to be without grounds).

See the story “Teaching Guide for Speaking out against Injustice” and the story “For a Whistleblowing Right with International Protection”.

[1] UNI Europa Meeting (Brussels, September 2010).

Published on: 19 January 2011
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