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Freshfields Risk & Compliance

| 2 minutes read

Whistleblowing in the spotlight – changing attitudes to speak-up culture seen in the 2023 Freshfields whistleblowing survey

Whistleblowing, and the promotion of a strong speak-up culture, continues to be a hot topic. With the implementation of new whistleblowing laws in many jurisdictions around the world, ongoing regulatory attention on the importance of whistleblowing, and continued scrutiny of related topics such as non-disclosure agreements, whistleblowing remains in the spotlight. For companies, awareness of reporting routes, training for those who deal with reports, and clear messaging around anti-retaliation are critical aspects of promoting their speak-up culture. Getting things wrong could have consequences both internally and externally.

At a societal level, the long-lasting impact of the #MeToo movement, and the broader stakeholder focus on corporate culture and employee behaviour have impacted attitudes towards whistleblowing and expectations as to how whistleblowing will be handled. Companies must grapple with those expectations against the backdrop of significant changes in the workplace, with remote and hybrid working arrangements becoming the norm for many global employers. 

Speak-up culture is underpinned by robust internal procedures and active promotion by senior management. Having a strong speak-up culture can result in real benefits for an organisation. If an employee is confident that whistleblowing is taken seriously by their organisation and that whistleblowers are treated properly, they are more likely to use an internal reporting process than an external one. A strong speak-up culture can therefore allow the organisation to identify issues early, investigate internally and resolve issues, all while retaining control of the process - an opportunity which may be lost if an employee turns to an external reporting route instead.

In a continuation of the exercise we began in 2014, we have gathered the views of over 2,500 managers – across various levels of seniority and responsibility in large companies and 13 industries in the UK, the US, Hong Kong, Germany and France – to gauge their attitudes towards whistleblowing and how they may have changed since our last survey in 2020.

The data from the 2023 Freshfields whistleblowing survey show the following trends.

  1. An increase in the involvement of managers in whistleblowing overall, with a corresponding increase in respondents who themselves have been a whistleblower.
  2. A decrease in respondents who would go to their direct boss, or encourage others to speak to their direct boss, to report a concern.
  3. The importance of up-to-date whistleblowing procedures and knowledge of them, with some concerning responses regarding publication of and training on whistleblowing policies.
  4. Different preferences in international organisations for local versus centralised reporting, which is a key focus of the EU Whistleblowing Directive.
  5. Divided opinions regarding the effectiveness of financial incentives to encourage whistleblowing, with a drastic shift in attitudes in the US in particular.
  6. The increasing importance that employees attach to knowing the identity of a whistleblower, which varies according to age group, jurisdiction and sector.
  7. The continued impact of #MeToo on whistleblowing culture, with the survey indicating a need for organisations to review their training more broadly.
  8. The long-term effect of remote and hybrid working on speak-up culture, including some interesting thoughts from respondents on the “why” and the “how”.

To register to access the full report, please click here.


whistleblowing, employment, litigation, misconduct