The International Bar Association has published a new report titled ‘Are Whistleblowing Laws Working?’ The report which is a Global Study of Whistleblower Protection Litigation, tracks the record of whistleblower laws in 38 countries, and provides an unprecedented effort to understand the successes and shortcomings of whistleblower protection legislation worldwide, following a proliferation of laws in recent decades.

Co-published by the International Bar Association (IBA) Legal Policy & Research Unit (LPRU) and Government Accountability Project, the report aims to support legislators, policy-makers and regulators in designing and developing normative, institutional and judicial frameworks that effectively protect whistleblowers in law – and in reality.

IBA President, Sternford Moyo, Senior Partner and Chairman of law firm, Scanlen and Holderness in Zimbabwe, said: ‘When whistleblowers report wrongdoings, societies benefit. But, generally, these courageous truth-tellers do not receive the protection that they should. Putting aside the moral imperative, whistleblowers must be given the full protection of law. Today, there is no greater example of the need for such safeguarding, than that of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has underscored both the importance and value of whistleblowers, as well as the risks they face. We should never forget the bravery of Dr Li Wenliang who tried to warn the world about the novel Coronavirus, and paid the ultimate price by losing his life. This new report shines a light on the efficacy of laws that are intended to protect and empower whistleblowers, demonstrates much more work is required and offers recommendations to shield the brave.’

Are Whistleblowing Laws Working? is the culmination of a two-year project begun in 2018 by a network of researchers from Government Accountability Project, the IBA LPRU and IBA membership. The research, undertaken in more than 20 languages, began with an examination of the strength of national laws on paper, compared with consensus international best practice. Reviews of the track record of these protections as demonstrated in case law followed, to assess whether the laws protected whistleblowers in practice. Although today, 48 – almost a quarter of the world’s countries – have a standalone, national whistleblowing law compared to none in 1978, the report illustrates whistleblowers have too often found that rights which look impressive on paper offer minimal protection in practice.

The report’s core recommendation is to draft laws that reflect global best practices, and implement them in good faith. However, the report also notes that, best practice laws will be ineffective without public support for, and oversight of, these rights, and that that is not possible without transparency and education. The report’s five key recommendations are:

1. Countries should publish case decisions online within searchable databases;

2.Governments should publish reports with consolidated information about the impact of whistleblower laws to benefit society;

3. Laws should remove economic barriers for whistleblowers challenging retaliation;

4 All national whistleblower laws should include a periodic review of the laws’ effectiveness;

5. Bias and discrimination should be addressed through intensive public education and training.

The IBA has been at the forefront of global thought-leadership in relation to whistleblower protection regulation, with input from numerous IBA committees, including the IBA Anti-Corruption Committee, and has frequently engaged on whistleblowing issues with the European Union, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, World Bank Group, Business Twenty (B20), International Federation of Accountants and National Justice Ministries.