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Whistleblowing: motivations, corporate self-regulation, and the law

Peter Yeoh (School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK)

International Journal of Law and Management

ISSN: 1754-243X

Article publication date: 4 November 2014

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper was to investigate the motivation behind whistleblowing, the tussle between internal and external whistleblowing and the extent whistleblowing laws in the UK and the USA are able to provide protection to whistleblowers. While employees need to be protected against unfair retaliations for making legitimate disclosure, employers seek to prevent irreparable damage from abusive disclosure of sensitive corporate information.

Design/methodology/approach

A mix of legal examination and case study analysis of recent whistleblowing cases in the financial services sector is used in this study. It ergo relies mainly on primary data from recent applicable legislations and secondary data available in the public domain, journal articles, media reports and related academic texts.

Findings

The study’s findings and analysis suggest that whistleblowing law in the UK, namely, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 appears unable to promote effective whistleblowing awareness among working adults and adequate protection to whistleblowers. The situation is broadly similar in the USA with reports of serious employer retaliations though bounty awards available there have brought some relief to whistleblowers. Consequently, whistleblowing to help safeguard public interest is not appropriately encouraged and protected, suggesting the need for further reform initiatives.

Research limitations/implications

The research mitigates the limits of primary secondary data analysis through triangulation of different sources of data and from the use of different perspectives. This paper suggests that whistleblowing laws in the UK and the USA, while assuring protection for workers for reporting wrongdoings internally or externally to prescribed regulatory agencies, can in theory help the early detection of corporate wrongdoings like those witnessed in the 2007 global financial crisis as employees are likely to first witness such activities. In practice, because of fear of employer reprisals and other social and economic costs, whistleblowers frequently hesitated until way too late. The findings suggest that business corporations missed such occasions to beef up their internal controls and demonstration of their commitment to ethical governance; and ergo would need to address such issues more effectively.

Originality/value

The paper contributes insights from a combined corporate management and legal analysis perspective. It suggests that this type of approach and analysis of whistleblowing would be helpful to employers, employees, policymakers and regulators, as whistleblowing is a complex process involving not just the law, but social, psychological and economic considerations. The paper, by providing further insights on the motivations behind whistleblowing including other considerations as well as the impact of current whistleblowing laws in the UK and the USA, supports earlier suggestions on the lack of whistleblowing contributions to various current financial scandals until way too late and the need to review these laws and current internal corporate controls reporting practices.

Keywords

Citation

Yeoh, P. (2014), "Whistleblowing: motivations, corporate self-regulation, and the law", International Journal of Law and Management, Vol. 56 No. 6, pp. 459-474. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLMA-06-2013-0027

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited