Knowledge and prevention

In its Annual Report of 2021 (Dutch language) the House for Whistleblowers (hereinafter referred to as ‘the House’) indicated they are under the impression that companies and organisations are not yet investing enough in a well-functioning and widely supported integrity program. For example, the Exploratory Study on Integrity Management and the Integrity Manager, which the House carried out in 2021, shows that the amount of time which integrity managers can devote to their role is frequently regarded as too limited.  Also, there is still a lack of sufficient training in the field. The planning, coordination, evaluation and accountability of the ethics and compliance program deserve more attention. Small organisations could get support from their industry association or appoint an external integrity coordinator.

Whisteblowing reporting channels exist in most organisations. But for former employees, suppliers and other business partners, they are often difficult to find. Still, whistleblowers sometimes report to the House that they cannot find the reporting procedure or that nothing happens with their report. With the consent of the whistleblower, the employer is then contacted. Usually, the employer then provided clarity or started handling the report after all.

We always advise organisations to make their whistleblowing reporting channels available to business partners via their external website.  

The House is increasingly focusing on prevention and delivering customized services. In 2021, for example, the “IntegriteitsWijzer” was launched, a tool with which organisations can assess their integrity program (in the Dutch language). It is certainly worthwhile to fill it in, to check where your program can be improved.

In addition, an attempt is made to quickly reach agreements with the employer on the follow-up of reports on wrongdoing. For example, by offering help in starting a mediation process between the employer and the reporter. The first experiences with this are positive. The House also strives to offer more customised psychosocial support to whistleblowers.

Advice

The following overview is included with regard to the department of the House that offers advice to whistleblowers:

Source: House for Whistleblowers annual report 2021, translated by the Integrity Coordinator

In 2021, there were 208 new requests for advice, of which at least 11 involved suspicions of work-related wrongdoing. In other words, almost every month there is an organisation in The Netherlands where wrongdoing is suspected that is harmful to the public interest. We do wonder, however, what the other requests for advice were about. Do they not reach the bar of wrongdoing that affects the public interest?

We also notice that the number of requests for advice are declining in recent years. The House indicates that this may have something to do with the lockdown as a result of the COVID19 crisis. As a result, more people were working from home and were therefore less likely to come across possible misconduct at work.

This is quite remarkable. In the United States, the SEC Office of the Whistleblower received significantly more reports from (external) whistleblowers in recent years. Whereas ECI reports an increase in the number of internal reports by whistleblowers, NAVEX and EQS have seen a stable or slightly decreasing trend in the number of internal reports by whistleblowers in recent years. Possibly employees, who are working from home, feel fewer eyes pointed at them, and as a result are more inclined to report externally. Furthermore, it seems that the corona crisis has put more pressure on employees, while at the same time many of the usual controls are no longer working or had to be adjusted. One would therefore expect more fraud and other malpractices to occur. Research by EY seems to confirm this. Seen in this light, the downward trend in the number of requests for advice submitted to the House seems strange.

Because the House must primarily focus on wrongdoing that affects the public interest, in recent years it also had to disappoint people who thought they had raised a serious issue, but which the House could not handle because it did not affect the public interest. This can have a discouraging effect; at a certain point the story goes that the House ‘won’t help you either’. We therefore regularly argue, like in our previous article about the Dutch Whistleblower Protection Act, to stop using the term ‘misconduct that affects the public interest’ and to handle all reports on ‘serious misconduct’.

It is also striking that 18% of the requests for advice came from the public sector and no less than 55% from the semi-public sector. The private sector accounted for 27% of the requests for advice. This confirms our impression – which we cannot substantiate – that employers in the private sector generally handle whistleblower cases better than organisations in the (semi)public sector.

Investigations

The House also has an investigations department. They conduct two types of investigations: investigations into reported suspicions of wrongdoing that affect the public interest and investigations into whether an employer retaliated against an employee who submitted a whistleblower report.

In 2021, no investigations on wrongdoing that affects the public interest were completed. However, the House did complete two investigations on the potential retaliation against a whistleblower. In the first investigation report, it was recognized that the reporter had suffered from shortcomings in the internal investigation process. We published an article about this case. In the second investigation report, no causal relationship between the whistleblowing report and the treatment of the employee could be established. At the end of 2021, 5 investigations were still ongoing. In total, the House completed 8 investigations between 2016 and 2021.

At first glance, the House has not completed many investigations, especially if you assume that tens of thousands of reports are made in The Netherlands each year. That could mean, for example, that:

  • Most of the reports are handled well and there is no need to reach out to the House
  • Many whistleblowers don’t wish to contact the House or don’t know how to find it, or
  • Many investigation requests are declared ‘out of scope’ by the House, for example because there is no wrongdoing that affects the public interest.

Who knows what is the case?

The House also indicated that it is working to put in place more efficient operating procedures with shorter turnaround times.

Source: 2021 Annual Report House for Whistleblowers, translated by the Integrity Coordinator

Wish List

The House further indicates in the annual report that they also have a wish list:

  • More support measures for reporters
  • Include the prevention and knowledge function of the House into the law
  • To have the authority to intervene and to impose sanctions

The latest amended proposal of the Whistleblower Protection Act shows that the Ministry of the Interior is prepared to explore or include the first two points. But as yet, no sanctions or intervention possibilities are granted to the House. That is a pity, because we would like to see a sanction for organisations that do not have their reporting procedure in order. And an authority who supervises this.

Furthermore, the House indicates that they need more capacity. This request will be met.

Would you like to take a course on integrity management? Or would you prefer to outsource the role to an external integrity coordinator? Then feel free to contact us.