New Internationalist

blowing

Issue 129

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DUMPING [image, unknown] Leaks from inside the company

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Whistle-blowing
Confidential leaks from inside a company can greatly help
public interest groups campaign against dumping and ensure
ethical corporate behaviour. Here we examine what is
involved in being a whistle-blower.

[image, unknown] ‘To inform on or against, tell on, betray, blab, squeal, grass, sell out, rat, nark, put the Finger on’... the list goes on. Consult the thesaurus and you find a great array of words for the making public of private information. Without exception they ring with disapproval. The only word to describe the action in positive terms is a recent, trans-Atlantic import: whistleblowing.

Vocabulary can be a sensitive barometer of values. And the weight of precedent and social mores lies with loyalty - immediate loyalty to employer and colleagues even at the expense of the greater loyalty to humanity.

A recent survey of young Japanese businessmen found 63 per cent prepared to place the interests of their company above those of society: more than half were prepared to ‘do something unjust or antisocial’ if ordered to by their employers. Such blind obedience is not just a Japanese characteristic. Consider:

. The British oil companies who for twelve years illegally supplied the Ian Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia against British and UN sanctions. The oil was critical to the regime’s survival. Oil company policy was directly responsible for the huge waste of British taxpayers’ money on a forlorn policing policy with the Royal Navy blockading Beira port. Indirectly the oil supplies permitted the deaths of tens of thousands of black and white Zimbabweans in the liberation struggle. YET NO EMPLOYEE OF THE OIL COMPANIES BLEW THE WHISTLE.

. In a more relevant dumping case, British Leyland suppressed what one judge described in July 1978 as ‘mounting and horrifying’ evidence of wheels falling off new Allegro cars before they were recalled. As the judge put it:

‘They knew the facts. They saw to it that no one else did.’ How many crashes and motorway mutilations could have been saved by courageous whistle-blowing?

Of course it’s understandable that no-one wants to raise the issue in our companies. The risks are high, the reward in heaven.

Criticizing or questioning dumping policies within a firm can mean being labelled a ‘troublemaker’. Of course the higher the managerial position, the greater the knowledge of socially irresponsible behaviour. And curiously, the more you have, the greater the sanctions on you: loss of job without pension or reference for a middeaged senior executive is a far greater blow than for a young fire-brand on the shopfloor. Reprisals need not just affect the career. Attempts at discrediting the whistleblower can mean anything from throwing doubt on the value of their work to sexual innuendos and red smears. In the Third World whistleblowers can even be the victims of contract killers.

In the equation on the other side is the knowledge of the possible deaths, maiming or straightforward exploitation of the poor, in whose desperate circumstances, but for providence, we could have been.

The answer has to be, wherever possible, to raise the matter internally. Dumping is extraordinary shortsighted and inhuman behaviour. Only if there is no company movement should the concerned employee look for outside publicity.


Sunlight the best disinfectant

‘Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases, Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman’ - Mr Justice Brandeis, the US Supreme Court.

Nevertheless trying to attract publicity can be an uphill struggle. In much of the Third World and all the Soviet bloc the media’s role is confined to toadying and posturing before the regime in power. Embarrassing the powerful is not in its brief. Even the Western press, radio and television are muzzled in many countries by anachronistic censorship legislation, like the Official Secrets Act in Britain or the extraordinarily tight libel legislation in Australia. This cuts down but doesn’t stop the policing function of the media. The New Internationalist is one of a number of publications prepared to put public safety and freedom from exploitation before a quiet and safe editorial life.

If you think your company is involved in any aspect of dumping, consult the check list alongside, and think about whistle-blowing. Write to us, with photostat copies of company documents if possible. We’ll keep your name totally confidential, or you can even write anonymously.

This article draws heavily on ‘Conscientious Objectors at work' Mental
Hospital Nurses - a case study; by Virginia Beardshaw SocialAudit.

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Checklist for whistle-blowers

1 Identify your issues carefully.

2 Document the problem thoroughly. Double-check your information. Gather statistics, memoranda or other data to support your worries. Make sure you are right.

3 Mention the problem to your immediate supervisor (if possible)

4 Re-contact the supervisor if there is no, or only token, action. Keep a record of this time.

5 If nothing changes, then consider the possibilities of whistle-blowing.

6 Identify who will suffer if the problem goes unchanged. How much suffering will occur? Be able to speak knowledgeably about the human costs of inaction. And isolate just who is benefiting from the continuation of the problem.

7 Identify the laws and regulations which relate to the issue.

8 Find an internal counsellor with whom you can share your concerns, who can be a sounding board and give good advice. Of course be sure that you can trust them.

9 Observe correct decorum. Your concerns are liable to give offence. Do not allow holier-than-thou attitudes, bad language or evens strange clothes to give cause for dismissing your views.

10 Be a hardworker in your office. Make sure you cannot be criticised for being incompetent. Keep evidence of your conscientiousness.

11 Consult with your family, let them know you might all be the subject of slander.

12 Examine your need. Are you willing to go through a good deal of suffering because your cause is decent and honourable? Understand you might not win. Anticipate your suffering. Do you have the stamina for blowing the whistle?

13 Develop an action plan.

14 Select issues which are in line with accepted understanding of what is right and wrong. Do not select issues where society would not agree with your concern.

15 Be prepared to propose an answer to the problem if possible.

This is an amended checklist of the Development Disabilities Rights
Center by B.Biklen & M. Baker. Syrecuse University New York.


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