Whistleblowers have a key role in shaping their organization’s response to climate change and greenwashing and other environmental wrongdoing, British group Protect stressed in a new publication. However, survey results in the United Kingdom showed the number of reprisals is high and indicated that many workers hesitate to raise such issues with their employers or the authorities.
Environmental whistleblowers are people in the workplace who raise concerns about wrongdoing, risk or malpractice that pose a threat to the environment. Whistleblowing includes raising a concern with one’s employer, as well as taking matters outside of the workplace to a regulator, member of parliament or even the press.
“If we are to prevent further environmental harm and keep global warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius that scientists say is required to prevent catastrophic damage, we need to use every tool in the box. Whistleblowing is one of these tools,” British non-profit group Protect said in its new rights guide called Environmental Whistleblowing Kit.
Just 36% of workers in the UK are aware of their right to raise environmental issues and be protected
Moreover, whistleblowers have a crucial role in shaping their organization’s response to climate change and pollution events, whether it’s a government agency, regulatory body or a manufacturing plant, for instance, Protect pointed out. The publication offers data indicating hesitation among workers in Britain to react to foul play including greenwashing, while a large number of reprisals have been registered.
Protect and British regulators are receiving very few alarms concerning the environment
According to the findings, only 36% of workers are aware of their right to raise environmental issues and be protected. In the past two years, 15% of workers reported raising an environmental concern at work, but 33% of those who did have reported that their concerns were ignored. Moreover, 74% received negative treatment over the last 10 years. The results are from a YouGov survey and Protect’s advice line.
The latter, free and confidential, receives surprisingly few calls from whistleblowers reporting environmental concerns, the authors underscored. In 2022, only six of the 2,500 calls related to environmental concerns.
In addition, the environmental regulators in Scotland, England and Wales received only 38 such disclosures overall between April 2021 and March 2022.
Employees are best placed to spot when things go wrong
The document highlights several high-profile whistleblowing cases. In the United States, Rick Parks helped to ensure accountability for residents when they and the natural environment were exposed to nuclear radiation. Desiree Fixler’s whistleblowing on greenwashing by asset management firm DWS led to police raids and fines in Germany.
In England, anonymous whistleblowers helped to expose the failure of the Environment Agency to prevent water pollution.
“Workers are the eyes and ears of an organization and are best placed to spot when things go wrong,” said Caitlín Comins, a legal officer at Protect, as quoted by the Guardian. “With the right information, they can raise concerns and damage can be prevented, minimising the impact on the environment. By exposing environmental wrongdoing, they can also help ensure organisations are accountable for their climate impact and there is appropriate intervention where required.”