In terms of global anti-bribery compliance, governmental inquiries of entities will increasingly focus on the effectiveness of compliance programs. Misplaced is any idea that all that is required for an effective compliance program is a well-written policy and set of procedures. A far broader set of factors can be expected to be subject to review. Many of these factors such as “tone at the top” will be rather subtle and intangible in nature. An important consideration reflecting on the tone at the top is the attitude of the entity and, in particular, its compliance officials toward whistleblowers.
It is surprising the distain often exhibited by top management and compliance officials relative to whistleblowers. That insensitivity and lack of respect can compromise the effectiveness of a compliance program. It ultimately pervades the perception of how compliance officials are perceived by potential whistleblowers and, indeed, staff and employees who simply seek guidance. A lack of genuine interest and sincere concern will inevitably deter disclosure of crucial information that may be relevant to compliance and addressing potential problems in a timely manner.
It must always be kept in mind that, despite their motives, whistleblowers may be telling the truth or, at the very least, may be providing information that may assist management in identifying potential areas of concern. Whistleblowers can often be challenging and difficult. Nonetheless, whistleblowers should be treated with care and respect. They can be invaluable sources of useful information that can assist an organization in deterring and addressing potential problems.
The attitude of compliance officials toward whistleblowers is an important indicator of the effectiveness of a compliance program. It directly relates to the tone at the top and inevitably to the effectiveness of an entity’s compliance program. Moreover, a poor attitude on the part of compliance officials can inhibit the likelihood of whistleblowers raising concerns within an entity and lead them to reporting their concerns to third parties such as, among others, the SEC, the Department of Justice, or the news media.