PCaW heads to Washington to speak at IFBEC business ethics conference

19th December 2017

Senior Policy Officer Bob Matheson writes about the 8th Annual Conference of IFBEC - the International Forum on Business Ethical Conduct for the Aerospace and Defence Industry, in Washington, DC, where he represented PCaW.

IFBEC are an international organisation looking to promote, and share, ethical business practices within the Defence and Aerospace industries. At their 8th annual conference – hosted by George Washington University – I was asked to speak on a panel discussing international developments in whistleblowing laws. Each of the sessions featured experts from academia, industry, and the NGO sector in discussion on areas within Defence and Aerospace. The aim being to promote debate, and discussion; which the delegates could then use as inspiration to formulate improvements within their organisation. Whistleblowing – which is increasingly seen as a necessary component in the detection, and prevention, of wrongdoing within industry – featured alongside sessions on the Panama Papers, Human Trafficking and many others.

Whilst my panel was designed to discuss legal changes worldwide, the actual debate covered much more fundamental questions about whistleblowing. One of our central drivers at PCaW is a dedication to the whistleblowing concerns themselves, and how best to make sure they are effectively raised, and satisfactorily dealt with. This involves supporting the whistleblowers individually, but also the organisations which see the benefit – and challenge – of encouraging people to speak up within their ranks. At the conference, this idea of being on both sides of the divide was alien to many of the US based delegates; you were either for the whistleblower, or for the organisation, and anything in-between was a conflict. In a jurisdiction where a whole legal industry has developed around the vast multi-million rewards that whistleblowers can get, I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised.

I like to think that at the conference I caused some of the delegates to reappraise their view on how best to approach whistleblowing. That said, I recalled at another internationally-focused I had attended, where delegates commented on the difficulties of introducing whistleblowing-processes into states with histories of totalitarianism and its corresponding network of informers. In these countries, a snitch was a snitch, was a snitch.

How relevant are these observations to the work of PCaW? Well, they remind us that we don’t all see the world in the same way. Nevertheless, there are ways of approaching problems which stand the test of time, and ways that don’t.

Public Concern at Work has been advising whistleblowers – and organisations wanting to hear from their whistleblowers – for many years, and 2018 sees us celebrate our 25th anniversary. Consequently, years of knowledge and experience which informs our work, and, as such, our perspective on whistleblowing is often sought at international events and functions. IFBEC was a great opportunity for PCaW to help shape the global debate on whistleblowing as well as give a fascinating insight into the effect different cultures can have on the wider debate.We can’t just denounce those who disagree with our version of the truth, we must get out there and do battle with our ideas. I had a great time doing this in Washington DC.

By Public Concern at Work’s Senior Policy Officer Bob Matheson