How Whistleblowers are being assassinated by the professional World
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How Whistleblowers are being assassinated by the professional World
“The hardest part is not blowing the whistle;
it is to manage what happens afterwards”.
An anonymous whistleblower
From Terror to professional Death
Within the companies, sanctions which are the most often cited by whistleblowers are the reprimands, isolation, down-grading, humiliation, the public notices, harassment and dismissals. These sanctions do not include the consequences that these schemes will have on the whistleblowers’ health nor on their families. Broken down by the company in which they blew the whistle and / or about which they have disclosed malfunctions, the whistleblowers face the culture of silence and lies.
Indeed, facing the ‘truth teller’ there stands the culture of lies. The former French Minister of the Budget JérômeCahuzac who had announced he was fighting tax evasion even denied his own offshore Swiss bank accounts before finally backpedaling and admitting the fraud he had committed. Bill Clinton, then President of the United States of America, had denied the personal relationship he had with his young intern Monica Lewinski, before confessing to the contrary. The racing cyclist LanceArmstrong denied drug doping before recognizing the acts. The denial of the powerful is such that “the one who says the truth must be executed”, as Guy Béart used to sing.
At UBS, as in other companies or administrations, whistleblowers don’t denounce the employees who do their job properly – and who, in their vast majority, ignore the malfunctions and wrongdoings. However in the ‘UBS story’, the colleagues who were staying on my side surprisingly changed their minds when writing emails to the management in which they supported them, exactly the opposite of what they had testified to several months before. Can one then be astonished if, a decade later, these employees are still staff members and still always in employment?
Once made redundant, the whistleblower faces another heavy consequence: his ‘unemployability’. Having been ‘unemployable’ for nine years because I blew the whistle on illegal practices and important malfunctions within UBS, I wonder whether on the contrary, I could be hired after an indictment and having been taken into custody for complicity of the malfunctions put in place by my former employer. The answer is most probably positive because my ex-UBS colleagues indicted for the same reason still work for the bank in France or work competitively in the financial industry. Must one be the accomplice –or guilty – to be like other employees, in a ‘non ethical’ normality?
If not a single company wishes to hire whistleblowers whereas other companies hire executives who have been indicted, does this mean that confidential agreements between the managements of companies exist in order to protect the ones having a ‘non ethical’ behaviour whatever their job, whatever their skills are? Do the other companies act in solidarity with the one that has been denounced? Do they fear reprisals? Is the company worried about hiring someone who would potentially blow the whistle on another case? Would the business world agree to condemn whistleblowers to a social death?
On the contrary, ‘confidential’ agreements would also exist between companies in order to hire employees who would pose a problem. That would permit them to be held on a leash. As with the bank Crédit Suisse, the press informed us that in the spring of 2017, a judicial inquiry would be opened for aggravated money laundering and tax evasion. Crédit Suisse has been the only employer willing to hire me right after I was dismissed by UBS. How would have been my credibility? Would I then be considered as a whistleblower in terms of tax evasion if I had accepted a job offered by UBS’s main Swiss competitor? One does not divorce the devil to marry its cousin!
Over and above the injustices one faces in recruitment and employment that already exist at work, secrecy allows questions of any type to be hidden. In business just as in a family one finds ‘family secrecy’. The ones who know the truth keep their mouth shut in order to protect their career. Bank secrecy is a concrete example. One of my former UBS colleagues explained to me that ‘the little green men - the founder President of UBS France used to name the UBS AG (Swiss) bankers “the little green men” - have the habit of being on familiar terms with the large part of their clientele and this was truly surprising for him because he had never seen this practice in the profession he had been in for more than twenty years. Several years later, he confessed to me to have understood that “Secrecy binds them. Each of the parties supports each other exactly as if they had hidden a corpse together”. Whilst journalists, associations, students and the investigators have no problem to contact whistleblowers, it seems that head hunters and companies are unable to approach these collaborators who not only are skilled but who have also proven that they have acted with honesty and responsibility.
Harassed, discredited, stigmatized and dismissed… Facing the sadism of what one calls the ‘system’, one dares repeating endlessly that the French employment law is the one that offers the best protection in the world!
However, it appears that the transparency we all together advocate for seems to have consequences on multinational companies. An important number of company managers have been made redundant or dismissed over the past years for their fault as far as ethics is concerned, namely in the domain of corruption, of crimes initiated or even harassment. On May 15th, 2017 France Info informed us about a survey that had been published two days before by the auditor PwC. On an international scale amongst the 2,500 companies quoted on the Stock Exchange, the number of departures of managers for the breach of ethical standards increased by 36 % over the past five years. The beginning of 2021 acknowledges that the trend continues with South Korea announcing the sentence of the Samsung Vice-Chairman for corruption.
The pharmaceutical Industry
Irène Frachon is one of the most publicised and recognised French whistleblowers. Dr Frachon, a lung specialist at the Brest CHU (centre hospitalier universitaire – university hospital), blew the whistle on the noxious effects of Mediator, a medication manufactured by Servier Laboratories which is today forbidden to be sold and has been taken off the market. The pressures which she has been subjected to and suffered are high. The book published by this highly courageous and tenacious woman has temporarily been forbidden to be sold (Irène Frachon, Mediator 150mg. Combien de morts?, Éditions Dialogues, Brest, 2010). Irène Frachon does not mince her words when she declares “With Mediator, I dug up a mass grave” (Le Monde, October 19th, 2016). She has fought in justice and has spent years to have her rights respected as well as those of her patients. She however acknowledges that despite the difficulties she has encountered, she was lucky enough to be supported by her own hierarchy. If she had been an employee of the laboratory blowing the whistle on a medication that would have killed more than 2,000 persons, the treatment she would have suffered would probably have been much worse. She would most likely have lost her job and have been pronounced ‘non repositionable’ professionally.
One could think that the denunciations by Dr Frachon would be an isolated case in the world of pharmaceuticals but the revelations from other doctors have proven these past years that wrongdoings in the pharmaceutical industry were important. On February 21st, 2014 Dr Bernard Dalbergue (Bernard Dalbergue, Omerta dans les labos pharmaceutiques. Confessions d’un médecin, Flammarion, Paris, 2014) and I were invited by France Inter to participate in the Service public programme of Guillaume Erner. This doctor whilst blowing the whistle on the Merck laboratory, wanted to put in the limelight the disturbing practices linked to concealed secondary effects or even covered up clinical trials. According to him, many of the regulations had been infringed by the laboratory, notably the payments made to doctors “infiltrated” in the authorities in charge of giving a decision on the authorization to place certain pharmaceuticals on the market. He denounced “dangerous links between doctors and a private company”. There! That is what made me think about the incestuous relationships between the banks and certain prominent politicians in our country.
Jean-Pierre Basset also struggled against the company Octapharma, a multinational company producing medications derived from the plasma (blood) and largely more on the methods of sourcing the plasma in the United States of America by the companies working on the ‘separation’ of the blood in notably the distressed suburbs in Cleveland. When I met this ethical advisor of the Union Drômoise of the Blood Doners on November 10th, 2016 in Valence during a conference, on the theme of whistleblowers and financial power, he confided and then denounced the shameful exploitation of human misery, in an indictment against the trade of products of ‘human origin’. The Association of the Drôme for the benevolent donations of blood was the first to stand up against the project of the bill of law for the financing of the 2015 Social Security for which the article 71 opened the market of therapeutic plasma to Octoplasma and which allowed them to enter into competition with the EFS (l’Établissement Français du Sang, the public service for blood transfusions) for the supply for this product at the beginning of 2017. Why hasn't this association been considered as a whistleblower when it disclosed these malfunctions?
On December 15th, 2016 I was participating in Montreuil at a round-table organized by the Collective SynerJ and the Comité des Citoyens Montreuillois (committee of Montreuil citizens) about citizens’ initiatives and the society which we wish for tomorrow. I was accompanied by Étienne Chouard , Professor of Economy and promoter of a constitution to be (re)written by the citizens. After the conference, I met Alain Robert, an executive technician in biology, specialized in in-vitro fertilization in a Parisian laboratory for biological analyses. This technician then explained the malfunctions he had disclosed several years ago. Alain Robert certified to having been the witness of the fact that some of his technical colleagues at the laboratory where he was an employee, sometimes inseminated patients, which is forbidden because this medical act is exclusively reserved for gynecologists. He explained to me that only gynecologists have an agreement and they are the only ones who can practice this medical act. He has thus wondered whether these practices were regularly made possible at his employer but also how fortunate it could be to a couple if an insemination of this type led to a pregnancy. He continued his enumeration of the malfunctions in terms of traceability of the sperm straws. I understood then that a couple could learn that they are the parents of a child which is not theirs, if genetic diagnoses were requested at term. I asked the question several times and each time the whistleblower replied in the affirmative which left me unmoved as I had been a patient of this laboratory… Alain Robert verified to me that the Agency of Biomedicine which depends on the Minister of Health was informed by registered letter with acknowledgment of a receipt on September 21st, 2011 and that no action had been taken since then except for the information that a letter was sent to the General Manager of the Regional Agency of Health of the Île-de-France and for all actions that it deemed useful. However since then there has been total silence. It cost him his job, his career and he struggles with the law without being listened to by the media. Alain Robert explained to me that this type of laboratory received a renewable Ministerial agreement to continue to practice and he confided with me that he has been harassed and abusively dismissed (This abusive character of dismissal has been recognized by the Employment Tribunal). He also filed complaints at the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) of Nanterre and at the Brigade for Medical and Technical Records and he was interrogated at the Neuilly-sur-Seine police station in the wake of the files that he had sent to the Agency of Biomedicine. As a result, in February of the following year, after sending an important number of additional pieces and letters, he received a letter from the Nanterre TGI informing him that the case was closed without further action and without other further possible remedies available.
Alain Robert on March 30th, 2018 during a Symposium about Ethics at the OECD in Paris - Personal Collection
What could be the interest for this administration not to pursue this case? Why would such a serious complaint be closed without further action? Either the whistleblower is a phoney or the documents are false. Alain Robert declared without hesitation that the patients at that clinic are from the most privileged social class and that many wealthy foreigners come for consultations. Also the confirmation of his complaint would have meant that the laboratory would have to close its doors. So he asked me the question: How could judges have rendered decisions going against the obvious and the reality if the complaints had not been closed? Could there be a connection in this industry, such as in the financial sector, between certain ‘elites’ for those files not to be brought into the open?
For more than a year, the only news making the headlines is the Covid between lock downs, masks, tests, second lock downs, curfews, vaccines. On television shows, the voice of medical doctors or specialists paid by pharmaceutical laboratories express themselves continuously. They follow each other, fearmonger and exaggerate. In other hand, medical doctors and professors have been ostracized because they have dared go against the tide thanks to documentaries such as "Mal traités". They constantly have to justify themselves. Without mentioning the media treatment of Professor Didier Raoult at the origin of the 2003 Biotox report which - if it had ever been followed - could potentially have saved more human lives. Luckily, medical and legal voices are making themselves heard in our country regarding the disastrous way in which the pandemic has been managed or a crisis generating from 'a pangolin' to choose from, which according to Klaus Schwab's book, would suit the Davos Great Reset.
In France, we would be inclined to think that things would be more comfortable for civil servants, who have too often been stuck with the reputation of enjoying employment security. In application of the article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, civil servants have to denounce each case of corruption that they discover. “Any constituted authority, public officer or civil servant who in the exercise of his functions acquires knowledge of a crime or offense shall be obliged to give prompt notice without delay to the Public Prosecutor of the Republique and transmit to this magistrate all information, minutes and acts relating thereto".
However, several whistleblowing cases in the public function send shivers down the spine, especially with acertain number of civil servants who explain that the prosecution would not pursue many of the infractions that have surfaced in the last years.
Michele (As per the whistleblower’s request, her name has been changed) lost her joy for living after seventeen years of hardship for having blown the whistle on a system of false invoices in a politico-financial file. She admitted that one is “better perceived when one shuts up, when one does not say a word. If one does not shut up, then one is put on a shelf and no one speaks anymore to you. Promotions are blocked. Colleagues turn their back on you. Justice is very slow whilst life goes speeding by. Families are broken down and those committing fraud(s) are hardly ever condemned. Those organizing frauds are better off than the honest citizens who do not win their case nor are given any reason for the loss. Damages, if paid, are in the amounts that are absolutely not adapted to the violence suffered by the family, in terms of social and professional situations”. This 40-year old woman has received death threats; she declares to be a “victim of the Administration of our country (France)”.
In January 2017, Rémy Garnier, a former tax auditor received the ‘Éthique contre Casseroles’ (Ethics vs. Pans) prize from the Anticor association. I had the opportunity to meet him at the ‘Assises du Journalisme’ that took place in Tours on March 10th, 2016. Both of us were part of a panel entitled “Whistleblowers: The State of affairs, Recommendations and Actions”. Rémy Garnier had won the confidence of a Villeneuve colleague relating to the existence of a Swiss bank account belonging to the Deputy Jérôme Cahuzac. He searched, investigated and in 2008, he revealed to his hierarchy the existence of a bank account hidden in Switzerland of the one who would become the future French Minister of the Budget. His professionalism nevertheless was recognised because he was until then considered as an “exceptional agent”. However his disclosure led him to suffer multiple disciplinary sanctions and to be transferred and suspended from his functions for two years (one of which was a suspended sentence) from the service of the tax auditor. Furthermore he would be equally sanctioned by a warning. Under the terms of ten years of judicial procedures, sanctions were cancelled, judgments were cancelled and the judgments not in his favour were dismissed in 2011. Mr Garnier coldly declared: “A whistleblowerpasses first of all by the route of the hierarchy". But in the Cahuzac case, some of the media treated me as the informer. I was the accused and not the denouncer. In the eyes of the criminal justice also, the whistleblower is an inveterate liar. So the first step is to have a psychiatric or psychological expert opinion!” In 2002, Jérôme Cahuzac would even threaten Rémy Garnier indirectly to ‘break him down’: “A State employee one transfers! A State employee one breaks!" Here again this echoes my own case because the bank UBS estimated that I had invented the story of the offshore banking products implemented by Swiss bankers and leading to the tax evasion of French nationals. That had led to have a psychiatric evaluation in 2012 and then in 2014 by an honorary neuro-psychiatric expert from the courts. The violence of my experience facing the Swiss bank had made the expert conclude that it was impossible to question my integrity. It was also validated furthermore by “three levels of repercussion following the violence suffered in the company: physical, anxiety, depression and social, without sparing the children”.
Françoise Nicolas is not going to attest that civil servants are properly treated by their hierarchy. She knows the Article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure very well. She blew the whistle on the basis of this article to the Prosecutor of the Republique. As a civil servant she was working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a position at the French embassy in Benin where she had been allocated in 2008 to occupy with the scholarships for studies, internships, missions and invitations among its Service of Cooperation and Cultural Action (SCAC). She ended the ‘abuses’ found during her first employment simply by order of this service. Whilst expressing his satisfaction for the work that Françoise Nicolas had accomplished, her superior was dismissed and returned to Paris prematurely one year later under the orders of the Ambassador. In the same manner this last one returned the diplomat to France under a pretext that will be proven to be false. She discovered upon her return to her post in Benin a system of creation of fictitious expenses.
Françoise Nicolas at her desk on December 15, 2009 - Personal collection
Françoise Nicolas explained at that time she evoked “accounting and legal malfunctions induced by the new organization”. Unfortunately she drew the attention in vain of her new superiors. Violent written exchanges and threats to her physical integrity became her daily life until she left on vacation. Upon her return from holidays in January 2010, she was crumbling under the work load and not paying attention to the disgusting atmosphere of the professional environment until January 14th, 2010. She confessed many times that she had been attacked by surprise whilst she was seated at her desk. If it had not been for the intervention by the maintenance employee who was alerted by the noise, she would have died from strangulation.
The testimony of a whistleblower in the French army, wishing to stay anonymous, is also full of common sense and turned toward the defense of the general interest. Pascal (As per the whistleblower’s request, his name has been changed) has become a whistleblower “despite him, not wanting to, but because he had to do it, without a second thought”, he repeated to me untiringly in the Louvre gardens when we met during the Spring of 2015. He explained that he had no other choice because what he had discovered had become unbearable. “As public health was impacted, I had to let them know. This should be the duty of every citizen. I put light on practices linked to malfunctions relating to health. It is my responsibility as a non-commissioned officer (NCO), to protect the women and men under my control and it was my duty as a military officer to preserve their physical and mental integrity. Until the second semester of 2013, everything was clear to my superiors that these malfunctions were non-existent. From that day, I understood that my career within the French army was over”. With humour, this whistleblower hinted to me that the saying relating to the ones who stand up in the general interest could be the “Whistleblower andpest one day, Whistleblower and pest forever”.
Another case has locally been making news: a civil servant working for the territorial civil service in the west of France was fired whilst she was on sick leave. Her largest error would have been to refuse the hiring of a woman close to a Deputy - Mayor during a recruitment jury (moreover she totally ignored their link). After multiple sanctions which led to legal fees reaching more than 60,000 euros since 2011, the whistleblower was unable to publicly express herself because of legal procedures: a complaint made before the Council of State (Conseil d’État), another before the European Court of Human Rights (since dismissed), and criminally for “moral harassment at work”. For four years, she has been without employment and without any income. All this in spite of the sick leaves which were acknowledged by several doctors as being related to her work. She however is well supported by a collectif. As far as the community is concerned, it has all the public money to attack!
Beyond these legal, financial and security pressures, the civil servants explain, one after the other, the pressures developed by their superiors: blocked promotions, transfers refused and colleagues kept at a distance. Colorful rumours run through the corridors of the administration about their integrity and stigmatisation of their personality within their professional environment. It is impossible for them to live quietly at their workplace after blowing the whistle on acts of corruption, as required by the regulation. The cases of Françoise Nicolas and Nathalie LeRoy are case studies in this area.
The Role of the elected Members of the Employees
The business world and that of the administration not being role models of democracy, one could expect that the elected representatives of the employees are standing up against the management or the board of directors of their employers. Unfortunately, too few cases have proven that their actions are in the sense of defending whistleblowers and of ethics.
In 2013 however, the Prosecutor’s office in Paris opened a preliminary inquiry into the sale of the group Printemps to Qatari investors following a complaint by the staff representatives. The representative body of the personnel (Instances Représentatives du Personnel) did their job and protected the identity of the employees who had entrusted them with confidential documents. The Public Prosecutor of the Republique in Paris was seized to denounce the multiple facts related, according to them, to the sale of the Group Printemps for 1,075 billion euros by PinaultPPR (now Kering), namely “breach of trust, money laundering, private corruption and hindrance". Solutions are therefore possible to ‘anonymize’, protect and respect the anonymity of corporate whistleblowers provided of course the integrity and ethical standards of the elected members of the employeesare not to be questioned.
During the famous French fair ‘LaFête de L’Huma’ in September 2015, I was invited to speak at a round-table moderated by a journalist from the daily newspaper L’Humanité, about the topic of corporate alert. Seated on my right was no other than Alain Gautier, an elected member of the employees of the company Vortex and one of his colleagues who was also an elected official. Alain described to us with great humility but also with precision his own ‘descent into hell’ following the discovery of very important malfunctions in that company. Vortex is the leading French operator of adapted transport in vehicles of less than nine seats. Its main activity is based on a delegation of public service in sixty departments to carry daily around 8,000 children and adults with disabilities, in return for a sum close to 50 million euros of public money. Out of the 2,800 employees in the company, 2,700 are part-time drivers scattered at several tens or even sometimes hundreds of kilometers from their homes, which prevents any meeting between them. The peculiarity of these transports is that these employees all have their service vehicle stored at home, which de facto deprives them of a common workplace and isolates them from the staff representatives. Alain Gautier declared to have discovered and denounced that the two directors and shareholders of Vortex have artificially and fictitiously fragmented Vortex by setting up holding companies that would divert all profits to the detriment of employees and the quality of service.
Round-table about whistleblowing within companies at La Fête de L'Huma, September 2015. Alain Gautier's personal collection
Alain described the meetings with his management, the minutes drawn up to what amounts to undeclared work, the practices of over-charging and the use of forgery by the general councils, the embezzlement of social goods and money laundering; he continued his speech with reports from the auditors and the contents of different alerts. He has since been fired and still has not dropped the file and continues to support his comrades at the front. Adversity is great so he continues to fight. After more than four years in front of his computer screen and on his telephone, he tried in 2016 to progressively resume a return to a normal life. He was recognized as disabled by the primary health fund (the French Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie). His reconstruction risks to be very long so his disillusions concerning the functions of our institutions are important. He explained that he gave himself up to exhaustion in this case, took a lot of blows and saw many desperate employees. He naively thought that it would have been easy for him to stop the practices of the directors of Vortex which he considers to be criminal as the malpractice would be blatant.
“After they potentially stole the employees, looted all of the companies’ corporate assets and dismantled public transport for people with disabilities, Vortex’s managers and shareholders were preparing to abandon ship”, he related.
Between 2010 and 2015, the managers and shareholders of these companies would have allocated 13 million euros in dividends and management fees including 2.6 million euros in 2015 whilst the loss by Vortex would paradoxically amount to 3 million euros (Press release by the CGT Vortex dated December 12th, 2016). The former employee constantly denounces the actions of his former employer with the public authorities. He describes himself as feeling nauseated but he continues the fight speaking like other whistleblowers. “For a few months, I was more occupied with my own defence than to work to stop their practices”. Attacked with defamation, Alain fought and on June 29th, 2017 Vortex lost the libel suit on appeal filed against its three employees and the newspaper L’Humanité.
The ‘Powerlessness’ of the Health and Safety Inspectors
The Ministry of Labour through its Health and Safety Inspectors should have the opportunity to better support and protect all employees who take enormous risks to expose the malfunctions of corruption and bribery.
In the UBS file, I turned to the Health and Safety Inspector who told me in 2008 that my role as an elected representative was to ask questions at the monthly or quarterly reunions with the management. She said she was there to protect me. However I was finally fired in early 2012 when I had experienced a situation of harassment inside the bank for more than three years with numerous sick leaves and with medical treatments that I had never suffered before. I was also taken to court and sued in 2010 by my former employer for ‘non public defamation’ (the charges were later annulled). The ‘protection’ which I could have enjoyed thus has its limits, in an excessively restricted context.
Until the end of 2015, one could then believe that the Health and Safety Inspectors were people well protected, notably by their administration. However the media told us that Laura Pfeiffer, a Health and Safety Inspector for the region of Annecy, would be sued in justice for the violation of professional secrecy and concealment of correspondence from the company Tefal. In January 2016, I met Laura Pfeiffer at an evening organized by the association Anticor where she received the ‘Éthique contre Casseroles’ (Ethics vs. Pans) prize exactly one year after I had received mine. Whilst investigating unpaid overtime for employees, she was alerted by an employee whose identity she had ignored for a long time with confidential documents informing her that Tefal was putting pressure on the Inspector’s hierarchy that she should abandon her mission of control. Taken to court, the Health and Safety Inspector was condemned on December 4th, 2015 for having made public the internal emails of the company, showing that the management had sought to hinder her work. The conviction would be confirmed on appeal at the end of 2016 for Violation of Professional Secrecy and Concealment of confidential documents with a suspended fine of 3,500 euros.
Laura Pfeiffer with Eric Alt, Vice-President of the Anticor association during the 2016 Ethics Prize in Paris
Whilst the young woman has suffered important psychological pressures that has resulted in numerous work absences, whilst she has only “done her job”, the company succeeded in the magic trick of being exonerated of all control whilst it was the Inspector who was sentenced. “Everything is calculated to dissuade anyone in the future from doing their job” Laura Pfeiffer declared to France Culture in May 2017. On October 17th 2018, the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) has however annuled the conviction of the Health and Safety Inspector and she will retried at a later stage. However Ms. Pfeiffer was sentenced once again in October 2019, namely for violation of professional secrecy.
If the corporate world behaves so violently when facing staff members, if the honest elected representatives of the companies find themselves powerless or helpless when facing pressures, if Health and Safety Inspectors are attacked by the companies whilst their work could be hampered, who could then help and protect whistleblowers? But also which channels of communication should one favour not to violate professional secrecy?
The Situation suffered by Whistleblowers in Europe
In Spain, whistleblowers also live a long, hard road because there are many corruption cases, namely as far as public bids and the construction industry are concerned. On Monday October 26th,2015 the channel TV3 Barcelona broadcast a documentary dedicated to “Whistleblowers against corruption” (Alertadores contra la corrupción - In catalan: Alertadors contra la corrupció ). On this occasion, I was invited by several media in the Catalan capital and met Itziar Gonzalez and Joan Linares during the projection of the documentary reserved for the Press. Ms. González had disclosed the malpractices linked to the Palau de la Música, a public building belonging to the city of Barcelona. Mr Linares was nominated for his integrity to a position in which he stopped the destruction of evidence that could have been committed. They both repeat endlessly that their country is dying from the corruption. It was then that we realised the parallels of our situations: complaints for defamation, slowness of justice, lack of means to fight against fraud, stigmatization, lives in parentheses and responsibility of elected officials.
Despite these obvious similarities, political ‘scheming’ or corruption relating to urban planning is essentially local. There isn’t a Spanish whistleblower known outside of the Iberian peninsula for having revealed scandals of an international magnitude, relates the journalist Montserrat Besses who signed the report by TV3. There also isn’t a translation into Spanish that corresponds to the English word ‘Whistleblowers’. They are referred to as ‘Alerters’ or ‘Alertadores’.
Ana Garrido is a survivor faced with numerous and repetitive pressures. This whistleblower also had an exciting professional life. She loved her profession until she discovered and then denounced a case of corruption including a circuit of false invoices and the Swiss bank accounts of certain political figures of the Popular Party. She survives today with the manufacture of costume jewelry. Like many whistleblowers, she had to sell her house – she even had to live in a squat and found herself facing lawsuits and has been brought to justice. She told the BBC in November 2016 that “Not only are we unprotected but we are also persecuted and harassed by those that we accuse because of abuse of position”. This summarizes the absurdity of the system!
Anna Garrido, Spain - Personal collection
In Italy, Enrico Ceci is not to be left out. His situation is not to be envied after he had disclosed malfunctions within the Banco Desio. He detected a computer vulnerability related to currency stocks. As he has written to me on several occasions: “In Italy, to denounce does not pay”. When he discovered the wrongdoings, Enrico Ceci immediately sent a report to his superiors. The consequences of his act first of all led to a transfer to another subsidiary and then to his dismissal.
Enrico Ceci in Parma, 2019 - Personal Collection
During the spring of 2017, all the Italian journalists and members of associations I then met unanimously answered that the laws are archaic and that protections are inexistent. In 2012, Transparency International Italia however recognized Enrico Ceci’s case as being the first example of whistleblowing in the Italian private sector: twenty-seven judicial procedures in six different public prosecutor departments, fifteen procedures bound to employment laws in three different courts, ten cassation procedures in Roma and a request for a 250,000 euro compensation. This is the price to pay for making one’s citizen duty in the general interest after being made redundant.
As far as Great Britain is concerned, this country should be the one that has the best laws that can exist. But two whistleblowers of the NHS (National Health Service) now survive since their dismissals and face endless law suits. The testimony by Eileen Chubb is truly overwhelming for the British authorities. She says that she never would have thought she would have to pay such a high price for exposing the mistreatment suffered by the elderly patients at the retirement home where she was working. Like all of us she is determined to continue the fight by proposing a new protection law for whistleblowers through the association Compassion In Care she created.
Eileen Chubb in London - Personal Collection
Switzerland does not offer a better fate to those who stand up for more transparency. When I had an exchange for the first time on January 8th, 2015 with Yasmine Motarjemi, a former Corporate Food Safety Manager at Nestlé, she explained to me that her personal story is one of a spiral and she had given advice ignored by her management of “some incidents of food safety noted with alerts issued at all levels”.
The problems she had found concerned the Food Safety Management at Nestlé. Some cases have been resolved without great damage like the case in France in the year 2000 where dozens of babies choked on ‘P’tits biscuits’ (little cookies) from Nestlé. There were also more serious intoxications amongst which the most sensitive in the history of food safety indexed to date, the intoxication of more than 300,000 babies in China and at least thirteen deaths in 2008 from the milk contaminated by melamine. Yasmine categorically confirms that with a better vigilance, Nestlé could have alerted and prevented this very serious incident or at least limited its impact. Since the first incident in the United States in 2007 where hundreds of pets were intoxicated with the melamine in the raw material (wheat gluten) imported from China, Nestlé knew the risks because the multinational company had paid the price itself. Yasmine adds that Nestlé had a duty to monitor its raw materials and products. As a result of its negligence, Nestlé contaminated products by melamine have been withdrawn from the market in China and in South Africa. In an article that the whistleblower published in the newspaper Le Temps on February 19th, 2015 entitled “SwissLeaks, the future remains dark for the whistleblowers”, Yasmine explains that the whistleblower, who sounds the alarm internally against practices or people supported by the superiors, is harassed or then will be fired or forced to resign otherwise his employer will not give him the reference letter that is necessary in Switzerland to find another employment. However it is well known that the reference letter can be coded, barring the way to another employment. It is also possible that the name of the whistleblower is put on a confidential list that she calls the “the cursed black list”. The former Corporate Food Safety Manager of the giant in the food industry attests that it wanted to force her to work in a “golden cupboard”; she was made to understand well that she had better accept otherwise “you will be fired and you will never again find work” as she was told by the Nestlé Human Resources Officer. Reluctantly she was ready to accept the job provided that Nestlé examined the malfunctions in her own Food Safety Management which Nestlé refused. By filing a complaint at all levels she was finally fired. In her article entitled “Abuse at Work” published inthe daily Le Temps, on August 25th, 2015 the Whistleblower has used these terrible words: “It means to say resign, conform or die”. The sanction for Unfair Dismissal is derisory and the authorities themselves recognise that this is not dissuasive enough for large companies.
Yasmine Motarjemi heading to her trial at court vs. Nestlé - Personal collection
In order to be heard and to relate her story through a lawsuit, Yasmine had to file a complaint against her former employer. She wrote about her motives in an article entitled “My Duty towards the Society and Humanity”, which she published in the newspaper L’Essor in 2015. But Nestlé did everything to prevent the trial and searched for different excuses to delay or suspend the trial. As for the treatment of her alerts concerning the problems of safety of food, both the Swiss authorities and the authorities from other countries where serious incidents took place, closed their eyes. No authority would have condescended to investigate despite the official and public alerts made by this former executive.
In Germany, the whistleblowers I have been able to meet with have all lost their jobs. Whilst Edward Snowden’s action obtained a strong support by the citizens of Germany, the Deputies refused to vote in 2015 for a law for the protection of whistleblowers. Regardless of the industry in which they were employed, the whistleblowers were dismissed and prosecuted. After visiting the Bundestag in Berlin in November 2015, I understood that many German Deputies and elected representatives have no idea of what a whistleblower is.
Isn’t it now the time for those who have remained silent until today to understand that the moment has come to distinguish between loyalty to one’s employer and blind obedience to the authority? One day, everyone will be faced with a case of conscience, facing an ethical conflict and could become a whistleblower.
What are the Answers? Food for Thought:
– Protection of the name of the whistleblower. Anonymity is the best protection ever. Tools have been developed to respect the anonymity of the whistleblowers while participating into the Strengthening of companies.
– The necessity for the totally independent control bodies and external hotlines for companies.
– The responsibility of the unionized and elected members of the employees in the companies is at huge stake. They must be the first whistleblowers in the private and public sectors.
– The necessity for whistleblowers to regroup internationally and to assert the right to alert internationally because the majority of the very serious alerts concern the multinationals located all over the world: every citizen regardless of which country she / he lives in, is concerned.
This is a Panodyssey Prime article
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