Back in 1993, when our charity, then called Public Concern at Work, was set up, whistleblowing was viewed very differently. Whistleblowers were largely seen as loners, mavericks, and even trouble-makers. And the idea of corporate whistleblowing with staff employed in roles dedicated to whistleblowing, was, well, quite frankly, light years away.
Major disasters and scandals in the 90s, such as the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, the Clapham rail crash and the collapse of BCCI bank over mass money laundering, led to exhaustive public inquiries. Incredibly, each inquiry revealed staff had been aware of dangers but felt they could not raise the matter internally. People did not feel it right, safe or acceptable to challenge malpractice, risk or misconduct in their workplace.
We wanted to show the link between whistleblowing and accountability and to break the culture of cover-ups and complacency. This lead to the creation of our Advice Line for whistleblowers which has gone on to help 40,000 people raise a concern. Today, our work is as vital as ever, and we support around 3,000 cases per year.
Today, scandals, of course still happen, as we have seen recently with the Mid Staffs Hospital inquiry, and Gosport Hospital, the Oxfam sex for aid scandal, and sexual misconduct in Parliament, but there has been a definite sea-change in attitudes towards whistleblowing. Through our work, we know there is still much to be done. We’d like many more whistleblowers to be thanked and commended, not condemned for bravely speaking up on public interest issues.