The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has commissioned a study on its internal reporting culture. The conclusions and recommendations are worded diplomatically but they are quite harsh.
The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to be praised for commissioning a study on the employees’ willingness to report and for making the conclusions of the study public. This seems to us a good start for the required changes. The conclusions and recommendations of the report are worded diplomatically but, at the same time, also quite harsh.
When talking about whistleblowing reports at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the retaliation against the whistleblower at the Dutch embassy in Nigeria, as confirmed by the court in 2020, comes to our mind immediately. In addition, the ministry was bad in the news in December 2022 because of a report on racism within the organisation.
Here are the main conclusions of the study:
- Employees are encouraged to report to protect the ministry’s reputation. There should be more emphasis on reporting because of the desire for a just world.
- The role of the management is not sufficiently clear. There is a need for awareness, support and positive press for speaking up. More focus on ethical leadership in the selection and assessment of employees can contribute to this.
- There is too little support for the reporting channel to reach its full potential. The Central Integrity Coordinator (CIC; not us by the way) could also play a greater role in this. Incidentally, it is also indicated that the CIC is functioning well despite its limited capacity. Nevertheless, it is recommended that the team be expanded.
- At foreign embassies, the reporting infrastructure is less developed. Local (presumably non-Dutch) staff are particularly vulnerable. For them, the system is less accessible and less secure.
- The willingness to report is hampered by inconsistencies and misrepresentations in information on how and where to report.
- It is suggested to make information about the reporting procedure available in more languages than just Dutch and English, both online and in hard copy.
- The procedure related to sexual harassment is perceived as lengthy and burdensome; the reputation of the procedure is not very good. Therefore, it is little used.
- This perception is not contradicted because of the often very restrained way in which these reports and investigations are communicated.
- It is suggested to ensure a transparent and fair sanctions policy and communicate its application.
- Show that safe reporting is possible, without consequences for the reporter.
- Maintain and strengthen the low threshold for approaching the confidential counsellors for all employees. Make it clear that they only discuss and advise on cases and take no action themselves, other than reporting confidentially to the CIC at the request of the reporter. Ensure that all staff at all (foreign) posts and residencies can talk to a confidential counsellor known to them.
- Ensure that managers pass on all reports to the CIC.
- Also create an external hotline specifically for reporters who do not trust the way their own supervisor handles the reports.
- Train staff in moral judgement and ensure regular moral consultations on difficult issues are held. A moral learning process can normalise talking about difficult issues, prevent errors of judgement and also stimulate speaking up.
- Break through the homogeneous culture of the organisation; ensure more diversity and different minded people in leadership positions.
- Professionalise the talent and reward system. Base it on a meritocratic assessment system, thus reducing the importance of having a good network.
All in all, this is a hefty list of recommendations. But there are probably more organisations where similar recommendations can be made. During our training sessions, we always discuss so-called good practices for speak-up procedures. Want to know more? Sign up for our Whistleblower Protection Act or follow all the latest updates on whistleblowing with our newsletter.