Whistleblowing paradoxes

Legislative protection and corporate counter-resistance

Authored by: Hilary Monk , David Knights , Margaret Page

The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415821261
eBook ISBN: 9780203566848
Adobe ISBN: 9781136746246


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For 40 years, there has been a growing public awareness of immoral and/or illegal conduct in the corporate world (Verschoor, 2010) a fraction of which may be a result of ‘normal accidents’ like those of Bhopal, the Challenger disaster and the Y2K debacle (Perrow, 2011). Although disasters and injustices in all areas of human activity may be partially attributable to the accumulation and multiple interactions of numerous small errors (ibid.), it is deliberate wrongdoing or the covering up of errors exposed by whistleblowers that we examine in the following discussion. Misconduct has been exposed in a wide range of society’s sectors – environmental disasters with nuclear plants, oil rigs, mines and chemical producers, unethical pharmaceutical marketing and healthcare standards, discriminatory employment practices, large-and small-scale military malfeasance, accounting violations and the global financial upheavals of 2008 (Calhoun and Derluguian, 2011; Engelen et al., 2011). The dramatic scope of these problems suggests that traditional checks and balances on corporate activity are incapable of detecting even a significant fraction of wrongdoing (Dyck et al., 2010). As industry and professions become more specialized and complex, it is rare for an outsider to be able to recognize organizational misconduct. Increasingly, whistleblowers “may be the best hope for identifying their organization’s wrongdoing” (Miceli et al., 2008: 31). The chapter examines what a review of the research reveals about understanding the relationship of corporate wrongdoing to the effectiveness of recent measures implemented to encourage and protect whistleblowers. There exists an underlying assumption that all those involved in the design of such measures have created them in good faith. Our analysis challenges this assumption by seeking to uncover why so much legislation seems ineffective in protecting whistleblowers (Earle and Madek, 2007), and proposes that researchers accept that some corporate interests deliberately sabotage whistleblower protection law as part of a wider corporate counter-resistance strategy.

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