Most G20 Whistleblower laws inadequate

Headshot of Griffith researcher AJ Brown in shirt and jacket.
Professor AJ Brown believes an anti-corruption plan warrants a place on the G20 agenda.

The whistleblower protection laws of most G20 countries would not adequately shield government and corporate employees who report corruption, fraud and other wrongdoing, a new report released today has found.

Despite a public pledge in 2010 to pass adequate whistleblower protections within two years, most G20 countries have failed to do so, according to Whistleblower Protection Laws in G20 Countries: Priorities for Action.

The report, the first to comprehensively assess whistleblower protections in the G20, was produced by an international team led by Griffith University, Blueprint for Free Speech, the University of Melbourne, and Transparency International Australia.

Without strong laws to protect them from retaliation, employees working in government institutions and private companies are deterred from coming forward to report crime and misconduct. This perpetuates government and corporate misconduct, leading to wasted taxpayer money, unsafe consumer products, public health threats, environmental crimes and human rights violations.

“Whistleblowing is by far one of the most effective ways to expose wrongdoing,” lead author Simon Wolfe, Blueprint’s Head of Research, said.

“Endemic or hidden corruption may only be identified by someone ‘in the know’. Without whistleblowers, much wrongdoing would go unnoticed”.

“G20 countries are only hurting themselves by not giving whistleblowers safe avenues to report wrongdoing,” said Wolfe, who is also a Visiting Scholar at University of Melbourne Law School. “Whistleblowers step up when criminals escape the eye of police and regulators.”

Legitimate partner

Report co-author Professor A.J. Brown of Griffith University said whistleblowers have helped save countless lives and recover billions of dollars in stolen and lost funds worldwide. “They are a legitimate, valued partner in the fight against crime and corruption,” he said.

“Citizen demands for stronger whistleblower rights are arising from all corners of the world. People no longer accept the idea that they should be punished for doing the right thing.”

Dr Suelette Dreyfus, a Research Fellow from the University of Melbourne, said Whistleblower protection laws covering the private sector need attention.

“That’s true across the G20 countries. G20 countries with particularly poor private sector whistleblower policies include Argentina, Brazil, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey,” she said.

The report identifies several key areas in need of improvement in many G20 countries, including more reliable channels to report misconduct; opportunities for employees to report wrongdoing anonymously; the need for agencies to investigate whistleblowers’ disclosures and retaliation complaints; and better enforcement of whistleblower laws.

As an indication of progress, whistleblower laws in the Republic of Korea, South Africa, the UK and US contain many strong provisions to protect employees from retaliation.

  • The complete report — Whistleblower Protection Laws in G20 Countries: Priorities for Action — is available here.