While there appears to be consensus amongst policy makers that legislation to protect whistleblowers is needed, the emerging policy question addresses what institutional framework is most fit to implement whistleblowing legislation. However, the institutions to whom whistleblowers report—which are in the literature addressed as internal or external recipients of whistleblowing concerns—have been given limited scholarly attention. Research has instead focused on motives, behaviour, and experiences of whistleblowers on the one hand, and whistleblowing legislation on the other. Particularly the role of external agencies, like ombudsmen, anti-corruption agencies, and Inspector General offices, in dealing with whistleblowing concerns has been under-studied. With the aim of starting to fill this research gap, this paper reports the findings of a comparative study of governmental whistleblowing agencies (other than courts) and non-governmental whistleblowing protection organizations (NGOs), as important examples of external recipients of whistleblowing concerns, in 11 countries with whistleblowing legislation. The study aimed to find similarities and differences between these agencies, and to identify challenges and dilemmas that the installation of whistleblowing agencies bring about. Data collection was done by means of 21 interviews with academic experts and high-ranking officials within the selected countries, and in-depth analysis of available (policy) documents and reports. This paper finds that in the studied countries, there is a trend to install governmental whistleblowing agencies that combine various tasks to implement whistleblowing legislation (e.g., advice, psychosocial care, investigation of wrongdoing or retaliation, and prevention of wrongdoing). When such agencies are absent or considered weak, NGOs may step in to fill the need. Whereas most governmental whistleblowing agencies have investigative tasks, in Belgium and in the Netherlands, investigations of wrongdoing and retaliation are done within the same department for the reason that these issues cannot be easily separated. Other agencies have separated these tasks to avoid conflict of interest or because different expertise is claimed to be needed for both. Further research is needed to analyze the effects of each institutional approach, and how to avoid conflict of interest, particularly the risk of partial investigations of wrongdoing. Our study also shows that while not many countries provide government funds for specific psychosocial care for whistleblowers, most governmental whistleblowing agencies do give advice to whistleblowers and invest in the prevention of wrongdoing or training of those who implement whistleblowing legislation. While providing important insights into the role of whistleblowing agencies in 11 countries, this study also develops questions for further research.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited