Is whistleblowing unethical?


Fact Box

  • Britannica defines a whistleblower as “an individual who, without authorization, reveals private or classified information about an organization, usually related to wrongdoing or misconduct. Whistleblowers generally state that such actions are motivated by a commitment to the public interest.”
  • A 2022 Association of Certified Fraud Examiners report revealed that “internal auditors have uncovered 16% or fewer fraud schemes annually. More frauds are reported via whistleblowers than through frauds uncovered during an internal audit.”
  • A 2021 All Voices survey found that 26.5% of employees say they have “never reported wrongdoing when they’ve seen it,” while 70% say they “would be more likely to report if there was a truly anonymous method.” 
  • The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 was established to guard federal employees against “retaliation when reporting a wide variety of abuses, violations of law, waste and actions posing a threat to health or safety.”

Elisa (No)

Whistleblowing helps keep businesses and industries accountable and transparent. Without whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, we would never have known, for example, the true extent of the NSA's programs to monitor innocent civilians. 

Additionally, many famous whistleblowers have kept our country safe and taken its actions to task. Chelsea Manning is a more recent example of this as someone who showcased the brutality and war crimes America perpetuated during the Iraq War. Without her bravery, the wanton killing of Iraqi civilians and the destruction of property for no reason at all would have never seen the light of day. It's unequivocally clear that, in this case especially, the ethical issues pertain to the people who literally tortured Manning and killed at least 15,000 civilians without reporting it, not in the act of Manning's whistleblowing itself.

Whistleblowers can help reveal 'health and safety risks, injustices or miscarriages of justice, illegal activities, law-breaking or criminal acts like fraud, and cover-ups of unethical activities or wrongdoing.' The Guardian writes that whistleblowers are 'indispensable to a healthy society' and 'are far more likely to be resented than respected' but are 'a kind of public hero.'

Whistleblowing is also a safeguarded act. As integrity platform, Gan Integrity explains, 'Fundamentally, businesses have an ethical obligation to protect and support the employees working for them. That includes protecting employees who raise alarms about possible misconduct they see at the business.' Because of this, whistleblowers are protected by the Department of Labor

It's been said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Within the framework of unbridled capitalism, whistleblowers are one of the few protections against corruption and criminal acts. Not only are they ethical, they are some of the greatest heroes of our time.  

Gina (Yes)

According to the SEC, whistleblowing is at an all-time high. In the 2021 fiscal year alone, $564 million was paid out in awards to whistleblowers, which raises questions about people's motives for 'blowing the whistle' in the first place. While blatant disregard of laws by organizations should be reported to law enforcement agencies, ethics and values are subjective. Ethical relativism puts forth that there is no clear-cut 'right or wrong' when analyzing scenarios, especially in a country like the US, which has become a melting pot of cultural diversity. 

A 2015 study shows fairness and loyalty are determining factors in whistleblowing. However, fairness and loyalty are both subjective and non-quantifiable. Further, Dr. Steven Mintz of Orfalea College of Business points out that 'greed is a powerful motivating force when considering whether to blow the whistle on financial wrongdoing,' and 'the most important consideration in assessing whether a whistleblower acts in an ethical manner is the intention for one's action.'

A 2022 study examining 'whistleblowing intention' analyzed the 'perceived seriousness of wrongdoing affecting whistleblowing.' Perception of wrongdoing is a gray area that could cause a tremendous amount of harm to both the reputation of the company and/or the whistleblowers themselves. Without seeing all angles of what is perceived to be happening within an organization, there is a risk of being inaccurate in the accusations. There have been many incidents when whistleblowing has gone wrong.

Employers give access to employees based on trust. If there is suspected wrongdoing within a company, it should be brought to light internally as a show of respect and to maintain that trust. That is the ethical thing to do–whistleblowing usually isn't.

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