“The American term ‘whistleblowing’ has meanwhile established itself in Europe. However, the spread of this term is very slow in Germany, a country in which whistleblowers are associated with the ‘informer’ stigma. Whistleblowing means that employees, for unselfish reasons, appeal against and provide information about cases of corruption or about illegal, unfair or ethically dubious practices they have observed in their working environments”. (Transparency International Deutschland e.V.)
Main topics: Communication, Corruption, Transparency, Whistleblowing
Corruption causes economic damage of up to $4 billion every year. The real figures and the social damage caused are much higher: the Siemens corruption affair around 10 years ago, for instance, caused a loss of over €2 billion.
Scandals like this cause an increasing number of companies to establish clear anti-corruption rules and take measures to ensure their social acceptance or, in other words, their ‘licence to operate’. To this end, multinational companies establish Compliance Management Systems, together with an increasing number of SMEs (which do not only include members of the Global Compact that follow the 10th Principle of Corruption Prevention).
One effective instrument to detect and investigate potential infringements at an early stage is whistleblowing. According to an ACFE report published in 2016, almost 40% of fraud cases in companies are exposed by whistleblowers. There are different variations of whistleblower systems: a study published by Ernst & Young GmbH (EY) in 2016 revealed that more than 80% of the companies surveyed used an electronic whistleblower system, 70% used email, 64% used the telephone hotline, 30% used a mediator and 12% had no system at all.
This field is where whistleblower systems like the BKMS system of the Business Keeper AG come to the fore. The BKMS system protects the whistleblower from reprisals and helps companies and organisations around the world to prevent financial losses and loss of image through the early and effective investigation of existing grievances.
The system is an independent, Internet-based communication application (not an email system), which serves as the focal point for the reporting of risks, grievances and suspicious incidents. The BKMS system stands out from other applications thanks to the very high demands it places on data protection and data security – a whistleblower who reports via the BKMS system cannot be traced if that person neither enters a name nor sends an attachment; all messages are stored in a high security data centre in Germany and no third party, including the Business Keeper AG itself has access. The BKMS system, as the only whistleblower system worldwide, has been certified by independent experts as complying with both German and European data protection laws.
The BKMS system, available in 60 languages, is currently being used at 197 sites by companies and by organisations of different sizes and from diverse industries. Upon request, it guarantees the complete anonymity of the whistleblower. Prior to its implementation in the enterprise, assessment talks are held to identify main customer-specific topics about which evidence is to be acquired.
An inventory is carried out before Business Keeper AG helps an authority or company to introduce and establish the whistleblower system. Checks are first made to ascertain whether a functioning Compliance Management System (CMS) exists, because a whistleblower system like the BKMS is not a standalone product – if it is to succeed, it must be integrated into the existing CMS. To this end, a Compliance department must first be established and an Ethics or Compliance Officer appointed; the position of the Board on compliance and anti-corruption must also be very clear. Another step is to establish corporate values, which are set out in guiding principles, a code of conduct and other guidelines. These values and guidelines must be continuously communicated to external and internal stakeholders and especially to employees. The stakeholder groups must be regularly informed about and sensitised to goals, measures taken and projects regarding the prevention of corruption. Training and communication measures must also be taken to ensure that all employees know and comply with the regulations, ‘making them come alive’, so to speak.
The next stage can be the establishment of whistleblower systems such as the BKMS system, enabling employees and (where applicable) other stakeholders to pass on compliance violations. To create acceptance for the whistleblower system and to remove potential whistleblowers’ fear of reprisals, the relevant persons should be fully informed in advance about the whistleblowing procedure. The establishment of whistleblowing schemes should also be linked to compliance reporting and include compliance monitoring and/or compliance documentation.