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Staff warned off whistleblower hotlines, says global survey

By Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) - More than half of whistleblowers have felt pressured not to use internal hotlines to raise red flags at large global businesses and public bodies, a global EY survey showed.

The number of organisations without a whistleblowing hotline has halved since a similar survey in 2022, as countries introduce new whistleblower protection laws and regulators order companies to offer informants safe routes to step forward.

But 54% of those who have used such channels, and responded to the latest EY Global Integrity Report, said they faced pressure not to do so. EY did not provide further details.

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The survey, for which 5,464 board members, senior managers, managers and staff were quizzed in 53 countries and territories between October 2023 and January 2024, paints a gloomy picture for whistleblower protections.

Good whistleblowing procedures shine a light on problems, allowing organisations to deal with concerns and avert crises.

But the survey showed employees fear they would be ignored and their careers hampered, if they speak up. Almost a third of respondents said they also feared for their personal safety.

Four in 10 board members, who responded to the survey, said they had faced retaliation themselves or witnessed adverse consequences towards someone who reported misconduct.

EY warned that bosses overestimated progress. Four in ten board member respondents said it was easier for employees to speak up, but only 26% of staff agreed.

"Individuals must be made to feel safe, and they should also know that their concerns will be acted on, without any consequence," said Andrew Gordon, EY's global forensic & integrity services leader.

Against a backdrop of geo-political and economic challenges, more employees would consider dishonest behaviour than two years ago. Nearly 40% of all respondents - and two thirds of board members - said they were willing to behave unethically to improve their career or financial position. This is more than one-and-a-half times higher than two years ago.

Interviews at companies such as advanced manufacturers, consumer products firms, technology and financial services companies were conducted by global research agency Ipsos.

(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Ros Russell)