The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”), an international organization whose goal is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people across the world, recently published a report entitled “Committing to Effective Whistleblower Protection” (the “Report”). A booklet containing the highlights of the report is available here. In the Report, the OECD reviews whistleblower laws and practices within its 34 member countries, making it a useful resource for multinational companies doing business around the world.

Summary of Findings

The Report begins by noting, “Whistleblower protection is integral to fostering transparency, promoting integrity, and detecting misconduct. . . . Effective whistleblower protection supports employees in ‘blowing the whistle’ on corruption, fraud or wrongdoing.” The Report states that more OECD countries have passed whistleblower protection laws in the past five years than in the previous quarter century combined. Out of 32 OECD countries that responded to its 2014 whistleblower protection survey, 27 of them reported a dedicated whistleblower protection law or some other legal protection for whistleblowers under certain circumstances.

However, according to the OECD, more is needed to protect private sector whistleblowers. The Report notes that many of the whistleblower laws and legal protections currently in place in OECD member countries only protect public employees. Furthermore, the Report notes that while 86% of private companies surveyed as part of its 2015 OECD Survey on Business Integrity and Corporate Governance have a mechanism to report suspected instances of misconduct, approximately one-third of these companies do not have a written policy protecting whistleblowers from retaliation or know if such a policy exists. In addition, citing evaluations by the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions, the Report states that at least 27 member countries do not provide effective protection to whistleblowers who report foreign bribery in the private or public sector.

The OECD intends to make the following recommendations to promote more comprehensive whistleblower protections in its member countries:

  • “Promote greater implementation of the whistleblower protections from the 2009 Recommendation for Further Combating Foreign Bribery in International Business Transactions, which require countries to provide protection, in both the public and private sectors, for persons who report suspected foreign bribery in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities.”
  • “Encourage protected reporting mechanisms and prevention of retaliation in companies’ internal controls, ethics and compliance systems in line with the standards set out in the OECD 2010 Good Practice Guidance, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance.”
  • “Implement whistleblower protection broadly, covering all who carry out functions related to an organization’s mandate.”
  • “Clearly communicate the processes in place and raise awareness through training, newsletters, and information sessions about reporting channels and procedures to facilitate disclosures.”
  • “Encourage countries to develop review mechanisms to identify data, benchmarks, and indicators relative to whistleblower protection systems and the broader integrity framework in order to evaluate effectiveness and monitor performance.”

Conclusion

The OECD Report is a useful resource for multinational companies, not only because it outlines the current whistleblower laws and protections currently afforded in 34 countries around the world, but because it offers a glimpse into what companies can expect to see in the future in terms of additional whistleblower protections. Private employers should review the Report against their own polices to ensure that they are in compliance with existing law.