Call for action by Whistleblowing International Network, 6 April 2020 – accessible here
As the coronavirus pandemic has spread around the world and governments scramble to respond, the whistleblower protection community has seen a rise in retaliation against individuals, particularly those on the front lines of healthcare, who are alerting the public to specific risks the population, and those caring for patients, are facing.
WIN is joining its members, associates and partners around the world to call on all public authorities and employers in all sectors to protect those who report or expose harms, abuses and wrongdoing during COVID-19, a world health crisis, and beyond.
Whistleblowers who speak up in the interest of others are doing us a great public service by:
- alerting their bosses to problems (risks, wrongdoing) that could and should be avoided or that need to be addressed;
- alerting the public when the risk is ongoing or is so serious or immediate that people need the information directly to stay safe and well until an adequate solution is found;
- ensuring those who run services, governments, companies, and regulatory authorities have the knowledge and information they need to make sensible decisions and are accountable for their actions.
“People who are raising the alarm during this health crisis are doing so because they understand the wider implications of the decisions being made or not being made around them.” Anna Myers, Executive Director of WIN explains, “They should be celebrated of course, but most importantly they should be allowed to get on with their jobs.”
When whistleblowers are silenced or punished, we all lose. While the Chinese government has since exonerated him, Dr. Li Wenliang who died from the virus, was initially reprimanded for “spreading rumours” after he sought to warn colleagues about the emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan province, where the outbreak began. Organisations working with whistleblowers around the world have reported to WIN an increase in the numbers of health professionals, in particular, who are raising the alarm about the lack of the personal protective equipment they need while they treat the ill.
Public reports of whistleblowing from the United States and in the UK indicate how extensive the problem of whistleblower retaliation is likely to be elsewhere and reports show that whistleblowing extending beyond healthcare to essential services. These include corporate practices that harm workers and put the public at risk, and serious concerns about social care and the safety of prison and detention centre staff and inmates.
Our governments need to respond to the virus and we know they are making decisions at a time where all the facts are not yet known. So, while the public cooperates through social distancing and workers continue to deliver essential services, the importance of access to information and democratic oversight of decision making is more important than ever.
This virus knows no borders and in this time of uncertainty, the knee-jerk reaction of those in power to clamp down on whistleblowers and stop the flow of information is not a small problem – it is a major health risk.