This article first appeared in Revista Capital on December 20, 2019.
Finally, the long-awaited “Anti-Abuse Agenda” was announced, which was demanded not only by experts in the field but also by the public, who see it as a solution to combat “collar and tie” crimes. Among the most outstanding and striking points, we find the creation of the figure of the anonymous whistleblower, an instrument used in Europe and the United States, and key to bringing to light high-profile cases. However, in Chile, its implementation has a great challenge, our own culture!
Since we were children we have been taught that accusing is a negative act, a behavior that falls badly and generates the contempt of the majority, moreover, the “accuser” (as it is known colloquially), when reporting a fact loses the trust of his peers and is often considered worse than the one who committed the offense. For the same reason this behavior, when cultivated in our childhood, has been ingrained in the way we also act like adults and we prefer to play dumb when we see something against ethics.
As a palpable example of the above, and despite Law 20.393 on criminal liability of legal persons, which instructs companies to have effective reporting channels, these are hardly used. According to our latest studies, only 3% of companies receive reports of corruption through this instrument which reveals two deep flaws in the system: the first is that employees are not familiar with the reporting channels, which can be improved. The second, and more worrying, is the general lack of confidence in the investigation procedure and its results, especially the fear of being exposed as the “accuser”.
In my work as a postgraduate teacher, where I share with educated people with professional development, I have also witnessed this culture. On one occasion, when asked if they would be able to make a report if they witnessed or detected an irregular activity in their company, everyone, without exception, said no. When I asked why the consensus was that they would not. When I asked why the consensus was that they preferred not to get involved because of reprisals.
Whether through the figure of the anonymous whistleblower or the companies’ whistleblowing channels, Chileans are afraid of repercussions. This may be because when a person detects an irregular activity, he/she assumes that the bad practices are installed from the highest levels (board and executive management) and that the report will have no effect, which is quite the opposite since knowledge gives the board the only possibility to take action on the matter from the compliance point of view.
At this point, the debate on the government’s proposal has two sides. On the one hand, on the guarantees of anonymity, which is key given what has been written in this column, and on the other hand, to encourage whistleblowing using rewards, which is also evident from foreign experiences. However, I believe that the most relevant thing is the cultural change we must make, leaving behind the concept of the “accuser”. Post-October 18 Chileans want a different society, one that is more transparent and does not allow the bad practices of a few. In this context, companies have to be the ones in charge, spontaneously, of promoting these measures and especially the leaders, since it is vital to have an effective channel of denunciation that allows stopping bad practices. And who better than the workers or suppliers themselves to alert us.
The anonymous whistleblower is a good first step, but now it is us, and I include myself, who must change the mentality so that this measure bears fruit and allows a fairer and more competitive market.