When it comes to making a whistleblowing report to an individual, through a software solution or to the compliance department, trust is fundamental. A good ethics and compliance programme has two vital components – an accessible whistleblowing system and an effective speak-up culture where reporting is encouraged and complaints are taken seriously. As more companies recognise the benefits whistleblowers bring, compliance departments have been able to build an environment of trust and transparency with the backing of senior management.
Even when all the ingredients for the perfect compliance framework are in place, can employees still be sure that key members of the compliance department can be trusted? Assurance can be provided through the introduction of mechanisms and workflows whereby selected individuals from the compliance department have access to whistleblowing reports, rather than senior management. This effectively bypasses management chains and allows all employees to blow the whistle on those working in higher positions without having to fear repercussions.
Levels of oversight can be boosted further when at least two members of the compliance team have to sign off on a whistleblowing report. When multiple individuals are involved in the process, the chances of a conflict of interest occurring are significantly reduced. The compliance department should also encourage all employees and external partners to speak up and report any threat to impartiality through the whistleblowing system. It is also important to mention that when a digital whistleblowing system is used, the software provider never has access to the reports filed which remain confidential within the client organisation.
It is essential for companies to put a comprehensive set of corporate guidelines into place, such as a Code of Conduct. Along with providing reassurance to employees, this will help the organisation address a host of negative scenarios and outline the processes necessary to restore and strengthen trust.
Outsourcing whistleblowing reports to an external entity can also ease impartiality fears given that a natural distance is maintained while disputes are resolved independently. While this approach is used by many large organisations, it also proves effective at smaller organisations, as the following section explains.