Whistle-blowing – the lifeblood of good governance

All organisations face the risk of unknowingly harbouring malpractice or wrongdoing. In the past few years, scandals embroiling household names from all sectors show what we at this charity have known for a long time – getting whistle-blowing right does more than detect malpractice, wrongdoing or risk but can be a vital bellwether for organisational culture.

In setting up Public Concern at Work, the whistle-blowing charity, we wanted to demonstrate this link between whistle-blowing and accountability and to signal the need to break with a culture which fosters complacency and cover-ups. Around 8% of the calls to the whistle-blowing advice line come from workers in the charitable sector. Financial malpractice is the top concern for these workers with 32% of the requests for advice concerning issues such as fraud, bribery, money laundering or incorrect reporting. Due to their very nature and reliance on public trust for everything from donations to volunteers, the consequences of getting this wrong for charities can be particularly damaging.

One way for charity trustees to embed an open and transparent culture is to make sure they have effective whistle-blowing procedures. As the cliché goes, prevention is better than cure. This philosophy goes to the heart of our work with organisations. Every employer faces the risk that something will go badly wrong in their organisation and ought to welcome the opportunity to address it as early as possible. Whenever such a situation arises the first people to know of such a risk will usually be workers yet while these are the people best placed to speak up before damage is done, they often fear they have the most to lose if they do.

It is rare that wrongdoing takes place without someone knowing about it and so it is essential for organisations to encourage staff to raise a concern about wrongdoing early and effectively, allowing the organisation to address the issue at the earliest possibility. Effective whistle-blowing arrangements are key to rebuilding public trust and crucial to good governance. A healthy and open culture is one where people are encouraged to speak out, confident that they can do so without adverse repercussions, that they will be listened to, and that appropriate action will be taken. This is to the benefit of organisations, individuals and society as a whole.

For more information, please see PCaW’s whistle-blowing Code of Practice.

Public Concern at Work, the whistle-blowing charity aims to protect society by encouraging workplace whistle-blowing.

• We advise individuals with whistleblowing dilemmas at work
• We support organisations with their whistle-blowing arrangements
• We inform public policy and seek legislative change

PCaW is currently offering enlightened charities the opportunity to sign up to the First 100 campaign, which provides public recognition of those organisations striving for best practice. Signatories include: Royal Bank of Scotland, Diaego, ITV, Civil Aviation Authority, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and Chelmsford City Council to name but a few.

  • Cathy will be speaking at the ICSA Charity Governance Conference in London, 30 April 2015. 
Cathy James is Chief Executive of the whistle-blowing charity, Public Concern at Work. Since being established in 1993, the charity has advised over 18,000 whistleblowers on the confidential advice line. The charity also works with organisations to help embed whistleblowing arrangements through training and consultancy.

Search ICSA