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Around seven out of ten FTSE Top 100 companies are risking financial and reputational damage caused by public disclosures of information

Around seven out of ten major firms are risking financial and reputational damage caused by public disclosures of information, according to new research from Middlesex University into how FTSE Top 100 companies publicise their whistleblowing arrangements.

Researchers at Middlesex University visited the websites of all FTSE Top 100 companies (listed in December 2011) to search for information about how people could confidentially report wrongdoing such as bribery, fraud and other forms of malpractice.

They found that 69 of the 100 companies failed to display any information at all referring to whistleblowing. Consequently their contractors, suppliers, customers, members of the public, or staff who don’t want to search for such information on company intranets, may not know how to report concerns.

Even among the 31 companies which did provide information, policies were described in a number of different ways, potentially making them harder to find.

The research was led by one of the UK’s top whistleblowing experts, Middlesex University Professor of Employment Law, David Lewis. He warns that this lack of publicly available information highlights the obstacles people face if they are considering reporting wrongdoing.

Middlesex University’s Prof. David Lewis said: “This is such a missed opportunity for companies to identify and deal with damaging issues before they get out of hand. Every year we see high profile cases of fraud or malpractice across all types of business, but if people are unaware of or have no confidence in whistleblowing procedures they will either keep quiet or raise their concerns via the media or on the internet.”

Prof Lewis argues that external disclosures can be avoided by taking some simple steps:
“Whether you are FTSE 100 or a SME, private or public, whistleblowing policies and procedures which are effective, clear and accessible at all times are essential. If these do not exist or are hidden from view people will have no confidence that they can report their concerns.”

“Policies and procedures should be carefully worded as they can have important practical and legal implications. They should make it clear there is an expectation that concerns about wrongdoing are raised internally and guarantee that those who make a report will be protected against retaliation.”

Of the 31 FTSE Top 100 companies who did provide information about  confidential reporting/whistleblowing:
•     14 referred to a “whistleblowing” policy
•     Three displayed a “speak up” policy
•     Two offered a “public interest disclosure” policy
•     One had a whistleblowing procedure
•     One had an “employee disclosure procedures policy”
•     Ten companies had codes of conduct/ethics which mentioned whistleblowing

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