May 15, 2007
A recent survey on ethics in the military found that less that 50% of the soldiers polled in Iraq would report on a fellow soldier for unethical behavior.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (« SOX ») requires that publicly traded companies provide employees with an anonymous reporting system such as a hotline. Whistleblowers are protected by the law from being fired or from any other disciplinary actions by the employer.
The IRS has a special program that rewards, in monetary form, citizens that report on taxpayers that cheat on their taxes. The reward is calculated on a percentage of the money collected after such denunciation. The IRS collects annually more than $100 million from tips and pays out more than 2 million a year to informants.
After 9/11, MTA launched a public awareness campaign using the slogan, “if you see something, say something.” The MTA director for Security William Morange said: “It is impossible for the police departments to be everywhere and see everything. Our passengers extend our reach and-by sharing their information-make the system safer."
Last week, three men accused of plotting to kill soldiers at Fort Dix were arrested thanks to an FBI informant.
Nobody wants to be a “snitch.” It violates our sense of loyalty and camaraderie.
Fred Alord, author of Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power, says that "To be a whistleblower is to step outside the Great Chain of Being, to join not just another religion, but another world. Sometimes this other world is called the margins of society, but to the whistleblower it feels like outer space."
When should we report on wrongdoing and when should we abstain from doing so?
Here are a few questions that could guide us in making our decision:
Do we have the facts, or at least enough information to reasonably suspect wrongdoing?
What is our true motivation? Are we acting for personal profit or out of revenge? If our decision is to remain silent, is it because we are afraid of getting involved?
What could be the consequence of our action, to ourselves, our families, our company and the community at large? Could we live with these consequences?
Whatever decision we make, it may take courage to be a responsible human being.
The American author and clergyman Edward Everett Hale once said:
I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.