Whistleblowing definitions: International Organisations
As I am preparing a full whistleblower rights violations report, particularly states discrimination on employment-related contexts as an excuse to not combat corruption, I share in this series the preparatory work. What are the definitions of words used in the context of whistleblowing International Instruments?
Recommended reading: any private individual can be whistleblower?
Today's post focusses on definitions within various international standards. Next posts cover the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Council of Europe and the European Union.
The International Standards Organisation and Whistleblowing
The ISO has after working on the subject for many years finally published its ISO 37002:2021 standard: Whistleblowing management systems – Guidelines
It addresses how public, private or not-for profit sectors should receive, assess, address and conclude reports of wrongdoing.
It notes that a “large proportion of wrongdoing comes to the attention of the affected organization via reports from persons within or close to the organization”. In so doing, it implicitly recognises there is whistleblowing from outside a work related context that falls within the scope of the ISO standard.
It further exemplifies any person can be a whistleblower by defining:
- “detrimental conduct” as including “other relevant interested party”
- “Examples of whistleblowers include, but are not limited to [work related contexts]”, so non work related persons can be whistleblowers too.
- “harm” as “work-related or personal”.
In so doing, interested parties outside the work related context, including personal context, can be whistleblowers too. It eliminates older definitions from times past where personal grievances were explicitly excluded from whistleblower definitions. And it eliminates more recent whistleblower definitions such as the European Whistleblower Directive seeking to discriminate against any non work related context whistleblowing.
The ISO standard defines words in its usual not to be misunderstood vocabulary. I here share the key ones.
3.8 wrongdoing = action(s) or omission(s) that can cause harm
3.8.1 Wrongdoing can include, but is not limited to, the following: — breach of law (national or international), such as fraud, corruption including bribery; — breach of the organization’s (3.2) or other relevant code of conduct, breach of organization policies (3.7); — gross negligence, bullying, harassment, discrimination, unauthorized use of funds or resources, abuse of authority, conflict of interest, gross waste or mismanagement; — actions or omissions resulting in damage or risk of harm to human rights, the environment, public health and safety, safe work-practices or the public interest.
3.8.2 Wrongdoing or the resulting harm can have happened in the past, is currently happening or can happen in the future. 3.8.3 Potential harm can be determined by reference to a single event or series of events.
3.9 whistleblower = person who reports suspected or actual wrongdoing (3.8), and has reasonable belief that the information is true at the time of reporting
3.9.1 Reasonable belief is a belief held by an individual based on observation, experience or information known to that individual, which would also be held by a person in the same circumstances.
3.9.2 Examples of whistleblowers include, but are not limited to, the following: — personnel (3.3) within an organization (3.2); — personnel within external parties, including legal persons, with whom the organization has established, or plans to establish, some form of business relationship including, but not limited to, clients, customers, joint ventures, joint venture partners, consortium partners, outsourcing providers, contractors, consultants, sub-contractors, suppliers, vendors, advisors, agents, distributors, representatives, intermediaries and investors; — other persons such as union representatives; — any person formerly or prospectively in a position set out in this definition.
3.10 whistleblowing = reporting of suspected or actual wrongdoing (3.8) by a whistleblower (3.9)
3.10.1 A report of wrongdoing can be verbal, in person, in writing or in an electronic or digital format.
3.10.2 It is common to distinguish: — open whistleblowing, where the whistleblower discloses information without withholding their identity or requiring that their identity be kept secret; — confidential whistleblowing, where the identity of the whistleblower and any information that can identify them is known by the recipient but is not disclosed to anyone beyond a need to know basis without the whistleblower’s consent, unless required by law; — anonymous whistleblowing, where information is received without the whistleblower disclosing their identity.
3.10.3 Organizations (3.2) can use an alternative term such as “speak up” or “raise a concern”, or an equivalent.
3.13 detrimental conduct = threatened, proposed or actual, direct or indirect act or omission that can result in harm to a whistleblower (3.9) or other relevant interested party (3.4), related to whistleblowing (3.10)
3.13.1 Harm includes any adverse consequence, whether work-related or personal, including, but not limited to, dismissal, suspension, demotion, transfer, change in duties, alteration of working conditions, adverse performance (3.26) ratings, disciplinary proceedings, reduced opportunity for advancement, denial of services, blacklisting, boycotting, damage to reputation, disclosing the whistleblower’s identity, financial loss, prosecution or legal action, harassment, isolation, imposition of any form of physical or psychological harm.
3.13.2 Detrimental conduct includes retaliation, reprisal, retribution, deliberate action or omissions, done knowingly or recklessly to cause harm to a whistleblower or other relevant parties.
3.13.3 Detrimental conduct also includes the failure to prevent or to minimize harm by fulfilling a reasonable standard of care at any step of the whistleblowing process (3.27).
3.13.4 Action to deal with a whistleblower’s own wrongdoing (3.8), performance or management, unrelated to their role in whistleblowing, is not detrimental conduct for the purposes of this document.
3.13.5 Other relevant interested parties can include prospective or perceived whistleblowers, relatives, associates of a whistleblower, persons who have provided support to a whistleblower, and any person involved in a whistleblowing process, including a legal entity.
The World Bank
The World Bank includes in its definition of misconduct (wrongdoing) “Integrity Compliance Guidelines“ the notion of collusion and coercion as being wrongdoing:
Fraudulent, collusive and coercive Practices: Particular safeguards, practices and procedures should be adopted to detect and prevent not only corruption, but also fraudulent, collusive and coercive practices.
As for the reporting, it can be done by:
persons willing to report breaches of the Program occurring within the party
While it is natural the work related context gives easier access to information about wrongdoing, it includes “persons willing to report”, which may be “any person”.
The International Chamber of Commerce
The International Chamber of Commerce would be expected to define a whistleblower as a reporting person in the context of a work related environment at best. Interestingly, in its 2022 Guidelines on Whistleblowing it acknowledges a whistleblower can be any person:
While the term “Whistleblower” can awaken different feelings in different countries, it has today become an internationally recognized term to denote persons who report suspected or actual Wrongdoings. Therefore, Whistleblowing can in a corporate context range from raising concerns, speaking up or submitting a confidential report via an Enterprises’ Whistleblowing channel.
The World Economic Forum
In 2016 the World Economic Forum (WEF) Partnering Against Corruption Initiative published its Global Principles for Countering Corruption, which does not define whistleblowers or reporting persons as such, but explains under “reporting complaints” provision that:
The programme should provide secure and accessible channels through which employees and others can obtain advice, raise concerns and report suspicious circumstances in confidence, and without reprisal.
So to the WEF, any person can report without reprisal.
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