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Celebrating Whistleblowers on World Whistleblower Day

Posted  June 23, 2023

Today (June 23) is World Whistleblower Day.  It was originally created in 2019 by a group of NGOs to raise global awareness of the critical role whistleblowers play in combatting fraud and corruption.  One of the principal groups behind the special day, and the one that promotes it the most widely, is Transparency International.  It is the independent, not-for-profit NGO  dedicated to stopping corruption and promoting transparency, accountability and integrity at all levels and across all sectors of society.

In its release promoting the importance of today, Transparency International — which describes itself as a global movement working in over 100 countries to end the injustice of corruption — underscores the “crucial role” whistleblowers play “in the fight for a fairer world” and why this day of global recognition is so important.  It is to “honor the courage and determination of people worldwide who speak up against wrongdoing and celebrate the positive changes they bring.”  And just as important, it also is “to acknowledge the challenges they often face and the protection they need to speak up.”

To bring these points home, Transparency International features a dozen real-world whistleblowers and their inspiring stories.  Here is just a brief sampling of who they are and what they stood up against:

  • World Health Organization researcher Dr. Francesco Zambon, who wrote a report during the COVID-19 outbreak on Italy’s pandemic preparedness, concluding that the country’s pandemic prevention plan failed to meet international guidelines.
  • United Nations Development Program manager Dmitry Ershov, who alerted international donors to what he saw as serious misappropriation of funds at the Program’s Moscow office targeted to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) employees Raphaël Halet and Antoine Deltour, who exposed what became known as the Luxleaks scandal where companies were using Luxembourg as a haven to save billions in taxes.
  • Residents in Lebanon living along the Litani river, who spoke up against raw sewage and industrial waste illegally being pumped into the water.
  • An anonymous whistleblower from Pakistan, who reported official collusion with two private oil companies, exempting them from state-owed royalties and costing Pakistan millions of dollars.
  • An anonymous whistleblower from Nepal, who reported the unfinished construction of a new school building even though the contractor has been fully paid.

There is a rich history of courageous souls like these risking their own well-being to stand up against fraud and injustice.  Unfortunately, there is an equally long history of whistleblowers suffering for their good deeds.  That is why the special recognition these heroes deserve is only part of the reason for honoring them today.  The other is to encourage companies, governments, and the public alike to treat whistleblowers with the warm embrace they deserve.  So admiration and acclaim replaces retaliation and rebuke as the most common reaction to individuals who say something when they see something that rubs against their moral compass.

As Transparency International frames it, that also means providing easy, safe, and confidential reporting channels through which whistleblowers can report their revelations of wrongdoing:

It’s vital that citizens everywhere have the means and knowledge to safely report wrongdoing.  Reporting mechanisms provide an essential instrument for promoting accountability, transparency and inclusiveness, especially in high-risk areas such as public procurement, healthcare, environmental protection and interaction between business and politics. . . .  Whistleblowers have a key role to play and they must be protected, not persecuted when they speak up.

So a special shout out on this very special day to all the whistleblowers who have put themselves in harm’s way to make this world a better place for the rest of us.  And to Transparency International for all it does to protect these modern-day warriors and to educate the world on why we so desperately need our whistleblowers.

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