Whistleblower Rewards Essential to Combat Environmental Crime

Environmental Whistleblower Rewards

World-renowned law professor, Masaki Iwasaki, argues that countries should “Reward whistleblowers who expose environmental crimes,” in a recent article in the esteemed journal Nature.

“Whistleblowers are invaluable guardians of our natural environment, and complement law enforcement,” writes Professor Iwasaki. “Authorities in each country should seriously consider legal policies that not only ensure their protection but also actively reward their contributions.”

“Environmental crimes — including the illegal harvesting and trafficking of timber, minerals, animals and fish, as well as the illegal disposal of chemicals — now constitute the fourth-largest crime sector in the world and are growing at a pace two to three times that of the global economy,” Iwasaki writes.

However, environmental crime is extremely difficult to detect, Iwasaki notes. He also adds that it is even harder to impose sanctions and penalties for those who commit environmental crimes because it is difficult to prove causation and damage.

Therefore, argues Professor Iwasaki, “unless authorities improve their capabilities in investigation, prosecution and court processes, substantial improvements in deterrence are unlikely.”

Advocates, like Iwasaki, contend that whistleblower reward laws are the answer to this problem. United States whistleblower-reward programs, which are widely considered the model for good practice, have flipped the risk dynamic involved in whistleblowing, causing hundreds of thousands of whistleblowers with lucrative information to make reports. U.S. whistleblower reward programs have brought forth over $50 billion under the False Claims Act (since 1986), over $6.6 billion under the IRS program (since 2006), over $3 billion under the CFTC Whistleblower Program (since 2012), and over $6.2 billion under the SEC Whistleblower Program (since 2012).

On both sides of the aisle, the leaders of these law enforcement agencies have recognized that whistleblowers are their most powerful tool in fighting fraud and corruption.

There are some provisions for rewarding environmental whistleblowers in the U.S., like the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and ad-hoc rewards from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Yet, says Professor Iwasaki, “even in the USA (a leading country in whistleblower rewards), there is room for further use of whistleblowing in environmental governance. This could include expanding the eligibility for rewards to cover cases that are not currently included, such as reporting vehicle emissions violations under the Clean Air Act or exposing unlawful discharges into waterways under the Clean Water Act.”

“Environmental governance and law enforcement agencies cannot adequately fight environmental crime without mobilizing whistleblowers. Moreover, whistleblowers cannot be mobilized without best-practice whistleblower programs which guarantee their anonymity and provide large monetary incentives,” says renowned whistleblower attorney Stephen M. Kohn of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto.

“Whistleblowers often face various retaliations from their organizations, such as dismissal and harassment. Many countries have whistleblower-protection laws to shield whistleblowers from such retaliations. However, these legal protections are often insufficient,” Iwasaki says.

National Whistleblower Center has led the movement calling for the application of best-practice whistleblower rewards programs to fight environmental crime. Siri Nelson, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center said, “The climate is too fragile, and environmental crime is escalating at too fast a rate for us to not be incentivizing environmental whistleblowers. We need their information, and they need the protection of anonymity and rewards.”

Further Reading:

Fish and Wildlife Service Must Leverage Whistleblower Awards to Fight Wildlife Crimes


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