On March 23, international law firm DRRT hosted an online webinar called “Whistleblowers and Reporters: Importance of Access to Information.” DRRT mainly focuses on litigation outside of the U.S., where discovery is not possible. The firm stressed the importance that both whistleblowers and journalists have in releasing information critical for investors’ efforts to recover from damages the investors have incurred. The virtual event featured Jonathan Taylor, a whistleblower who exposed corruption and bribery in Dutch company SBM Offshore. The webinar also included Georgina Halford-Hall, chief executive of not-for-profit organization WhistleblowersUK, John Kostyack of the National Whistleblower Center (NWC), Lord Cromwell of the House of Lords in the UK, and Tom Warren, a forensic journalist from BuzzFeed News.
Halford-Hall, a whistleblower herself, first led a conversation with Taylor, who described his whistleblower journey and the fallout that occurred after his whistleblower disclosures which rocked the international community. Taylor provided insight into the company culture at SBM that led him to blow the whistle externally rather than within the company. “I had no choice but to resign,” Taylor said of his departure from SBM, emphasizing that his conscience required him to leave the company. He also described the actions taken against him since he made his whistleblower disclosure.
Lord Cromwell commented on how it seems as though blowing the whistle anonymously is the best way to blow the whistle. “At the moment, we do not have a method whereby whistleblowers are properly protected, and that is to the advantage of no one other than people who want to deny, dismiss, and deceive,” Lord Cromwell said.
Kostyack expressed the NWC’s support for Taylor and whistleblowers like him, stating that many whistleblowers have stories with similarities. He pointed to the “gold standard” False Claims Act and the Dodd-Frank Act as good models of U.S. whistleblower laws. Warren, who worked on BuzzFeed News’ FinCEN files revealing documents from international banking, provided a journalist’s perspective to reporting on whistleblower stories and working with anonymous sources.
Halford-Hall spoke on her story, stating that part of a whistleblower’s courage is shown in their sticking to the truth and encouraging others to support them. She advised people who might want to blow the whistle to make sure they have a good support system of family and friends in place. Halford-Hall also stated that corporate governance is everyone’s responsibility.
Kostyack expanded on this by emphasizing the importance of whistleblower lawyers, who will be on the whistleblower’s side at all times. He advised anyone considering blowing the whistle to make finding legal representation be their “first stop.” Warren again provided the press point of view, stating that journalism has the potential to affect change at the policy level. He expressed worry that the public could become fatigued from hearing about whistleblowers and leakers, and Halford-Hall said that we cannot normalize what whistleblowers go through to speak the truth.
Concluding the webinar, Lord Cromwell expressed the importance of institutional investors, stating that these investors should make sure that companies have just practices. Similarly, Kostyack and Halford-Hall stated that it is important to see if a company has hired whistleblowers as employees and/or kept whistleblowers employed after they make disclosures. Halford-Hall advised every chairman of every company board to take whistleblowers seriously.