What’s going on here?

A new environmental whistleblowing toolkit has been published by Protect, a charity that advises and defends whistleblowers in the UK. It conducted a survey which found that concerns about being fired or victimised at work are preventing people from calling out environmental issues at their workplace.

It also found that of the very few environmental whistleblowers who contacted Protect, 74% reported receiving negative treatment as a result. This is higher than the average for raising other types of concerns.

What does this mean?

Environmental whistleblowers are currently few and far between. Protect decided to look into the issue when just six of the 2,500 calls it received in 2022 were about the environment. The UK’s environmental regulators also receive very few whistleblowing calls; just 38 between April 2021 and March 2022.

This is despite the fact that, in the last few years, it has become easier to call out UK companies which are harming the environment. In 2021 the Environment Act tightened up legislation on public bodies such as water companies, to crack down on the discharge of sewage into rivers, waterways and coastlines.

There have also been changes that make it easier for whistleblowers to shed light on violations within private companies. Many big companies are legally required to publish a sustainability report, and pressure is growing on more companies to disclose climate information.

Why should we care?

Whistleblowing is an important way to hold organisations to account for their behaviour. Employees are often aware of wrongdoing or environmental violations in their companies and can bring it to public attention.

For example, in Germany an employee exposed a case of greenwashing by DWS Group, the asset management arm of Deutsche Bank, which led to several regulatory investigations. The company also had to pay out a multibillion-dollar settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

However, it can be a risky move. In the DWS case, the whistleblower lost her job. And in the UK, in the middle of the sewage crisis in 2022 when water companies were pumping raw sewage into rivers and the sea, employees at the Environment Agency were sent an email threatening disciplinary action or dismissal for speaking up about what was happening.

Environmental whistleblowing should be on the up as more companies have tangible climate and pollution targets to be measured against. But individuals need support if they’re to speak up for the planet.

Be curious!

Feature Image: Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa via Unsplash

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