Editorial - February/March 2019

James Lewis

As our cover feature points out, large, multinational institutions continue to face significant issues in implementing effective policies to give whistleblowers the necessary protections.

Recent revelations across a range of sectors, including technology and finance, show the fundamental importance of whistleblowers. Christopher Wylie brought to light the role of Cambridge Analytica in undermining democracy and the rule of law by improperly harvesting social media data, for example. But, given the consequences – Facebook’s share price plummeted and Cambridge Analytica has since ceased operations – it’s not hard to see why whistleblowing might be considered less than welcome by companies involved in such scenarios.

The response of Barclays to anonymous allegations sent to the board was not to use them to kick-start constructive review and change. Instead, there was an attempt to identify the author of the allegations. The relevant regulators did impose special requirements on the bank, but have also come in for criticism from those who feel they didn’t go far enough.

Nevertheless, the general sense is that a culture shift is well under way. Dubious practices that might previously have been tolerated, perhaps because they were commonplace, are no longer being accepted. The ongoing #MeToo movement, which has fundamentally shifted the agenda on sexual harassment, is an oft-cited and prominent example.

Our feature ‘The dark side of NDAs’ explores the gagging orders – non-disclosure agreements – that have been central to the Weinstein scandal, silencing victims for decades. Speaking to Global Insight, Weinstein’s former assistant Zelda Perkins pinpoints one major issue she feels has now come to light: ‘the systemic environmental problem around Harvey Weinstein, but also a lot of powerful men and women and corporations where equality in front of the law doesn’t really exist’.

Whether it’s due to lack of protections for would-be whistleblowers or the use and abuse of legal techniques, such as gagging orders or defamation law, too often those who would speak out about wrongdoing in the public interest are being silenced by those with the requisite wealth and power. Change in all these areas would be welcome. It’s long overdue.

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