Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Whistleblowing

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Whistleblowing as a valid method to control unethical behaviour & establish a level of social responsibility

Introduction

Political philosopher, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) once said, 'All that is needed for evil to prosper is for people of good will to do nothing'. This statement rings true in the case of whistleblowing and its validity in controlling unethical behaviour and establishing social responsibility, as this section of the essay will explain.

Firstly, let us turn our attention to the terminology. Corporate social responsibility is “the obligation of an organization to act in ways that serve the interests of the stakeholders” (Schermerhorn et al, 2004, p.158). Schermerhorn also defines the term Stakeholders, as being “the individuals, groups and institutions directly affected by an organizations performance.” (Schermerhorn et al. 2004, p.8). Workers within an organization may act in ways to serve their own self-interest rather than in the interests of the stakeholders and perform unethical practices, for example embezzlement. This is when whistleblowing becomes a valid method of controlling an unethical practice, as often, internal wrongdoings go unnoticed by those outside the organization, whereas an employee may witness or hear something that can be reported to the appropriate authority figures.

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According to an article by Martin Keith titled ‘Weighing up the risks of whistleblowing’ The whistleblower usually acts in the public interest rather than self-interest. (The Advertiser, Mar. 2001, p.6)

Thus, Whistleblowing has been described as ethical informing and is a valid method to control unethical behaviour because it exposes alleged corrupt practices of others or some scandalous activity that may otherwise go unnoticed.

According to Pierce, every organization member carries the values, norms, and mores of society into the organization and has responsibility for his or her personal conduct. Thus, the responsibility for moral reasoning and ethical conduct falls on each member. With this knowledge, more and more organizations are encouraging their members to report unethical behaviour- i.e. Whistleblow. According to Regester & Larking, (2000) employees can report on unethical company activities through internal organisational communication channels or through external communication channels such as the media and government agencies, which has the potential to cause many problems for the organization.


Internal Whistleblowing

According to King, Internal whistle blowing means that a current or former employee reports an illegal, immoral or illegitimate activity to members of upper management and supervisors within the organization.

In order to accommodate these reports organizations have set up communication systems to handle employee complaints internally. According to Pierce, this has According to King, Internal whistleblowing means that a current or former employee reports an illegal, immoral or illegitimate activity to members of upper management and supervisors within the organization.been done to persuade employees to blow the whistle inside an organization rather than to the press or to regulatory agencies. This is usually done by formally appointing an individual within the company to solicit and deal with the employee’s complaint. Schermerhorn (2004) refers to this individual as an “ethics adviser”.

Those organizations that do not take the employees complaint seriously, do not have internal channels whistleblowers can use, or worse still, those who try and silence the whistleblower, may find the matter soon becomes public. External whistleblowing may otherwise be avoided if a positive ‘internal’ whistleblowing culture is embraced and enforced by to management.

External whistleblowing

According to a website provided by the University of Athabascau, California, External whistleblowing involves the employee telling the public about the organizations unethical practice via such media as “newspapers, appearances on TV and radio, letter writing campaigns, demonstrations, or more discreetly, taking action within a professional association” (http//www.athabascau.ca/courses/hsrv/11/u8comment.html#employees)

This essay has described the problems whistleblowing has on both the whistleblower and the organization. The whistleblower has much at stake an with this in mind will generally leave external whistleblowing as a very last option after all other avenues have been exhausted.

However, regardless of the potential problems whistleblowing may present in many cases it has positive outcomes for society. For example in a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts on the validity of employee whistleblowing 76% of employee the whistleblowing complaints were true (Figg, 2000). Therefore, if whistleblowing were to become more of an accepted and common occurrence, wrongdoing would substantially decrease because potential offenders would be aware that their activities were not as secret as they might otherwise be. This brings us now to whistleblowing being supported by government legislation and commissions.

The law supports whistleblowing

According to Greenberg and Baron (2000) whistleblowers can protect the health, safety or economic welfare of the public. The Australian legal system has acknowledged that whistleblowers play a valuable social role in law enforcement. Legislation is put in place in order to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and encourage whistleblowers to come forward with information. For example, in South Australia, there is the Whistleblowers Protection Act 1 designed to facilitate the disclosure, in the public interest, of maladministration and waste in the public sector and of corrupt or illegal conduct. (The Advertiser Mar. 2001, p.6)

On the Lawlink NSW website (NSW Attorney Generals Department) there is a section that addresses whistleblowing in regards to Codes of Ethics and like documents. The website attests that these codes should support whistleblowing and “should reference obligations that members report unprofessional conduct or professional misconduct, and that failure to do so or to discriminate against whistleblowers is in breach of the code and therefore a disciplinary offence” (http//www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/psc.nsf/pages/rep_whistle_where)

The website goes on to say that whistleblowing should be considered as “an additional means of bringing to the attention unethical practices and substandard professional practices, which would otherwise remain hidden.”
(http//www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/psc.nsf/pages/rep_whistle_where)

In addition to legislation, various Australian commissions and authorities support whistleblowing and have come to recognise the value it has in controlling unethical behaviour and establishing social responsibility within the country. For example The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) deems whistleblowing as a means of establishing social responsibility and believes that employees should be forced to blow the whistle on corporate malfeasance, in order to “fulfil their public responsibility”. This is because “stakeholders cannot rely on auditors to do their job and expose financial skulduggery”. (Sydney Morning Herald Jun. 2000, p. 4).

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is also a firm believer in whistleblowing as a form of controlling unethical behaviour. As seen in the article by Martin the ICAC Deputy Commissioner, Mr Kieran Pehm has noticed the value of whistleblowers in corporate collapses such as Enron Corp, in which J. Clifford Baxter, former executive and whistleblower end up dead after apparently committing suicide. Mr Pehm showed concern and insisted that such a case proves that early action in whistleblowing needs to be taken before problems become so severe. (Martin, 2000)

Conclusion

The aim of a whistleblowing culture is that wrongdoing or findings of new risks should be properly raised and addressed in workplace or with the person or governmental agency responsible.

One important way to alter such perceptions is to make the activity of reporting wrongdoing an integral part of the systems in place within an organisation. Indeed, this approach was specifically endorsed by the Senate Select Committee on Public Interest Whistleblowing recommending inter alia that

Whistle blowing however is a tool increasingly being discussed and implemented to deliver and maintain peace through commerce such as justice, good governance, transparency and giving individuals voice as necessary requirements. (Dworkin, 2000)

Australian legal bodies as well as other countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom, believe whistleblowing is a valid form of controlling unethical behaviour within organizations by providing a voice for stakeholders and society at large and therefore helping to maintain a level of social responsibility.



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