Sunday Read: Celebrating Whistleblowers

National Whistleblower Day Speaker Lineup!
  • Environmental health regulations — Courageous whistleblowers have also had a profound impact on the natural environment. In the 90s, tobacco whistleblowers Jeffrey Wigand and Merrell Williams revealed that Big Tobacco had hidden evidence that tobacco was addictive and carcinogenic. Merrell’s documents and Wigand’s testimony enabled 39 state attorneys general to achieve a $246 billion settlement from the industry, paved the way for a successful racketeering case, and significantly altered public perceptions of smoking. More recently, environmental justice has gained a central role in U.S. political campaigns and legislation, in part due to whistleblowers who alerted their communities to lead in drinking water, leaks from petrochemical plants, and radioactive drilling waste.
  • Digital privacy and social media reforms — Crucial conversations about digital privacy and data collection may never have occurred without whistleblowers’ sacrifices. While evidence of warrantless surveillance by the NSA existed before 2013, it was Edward Snowden’s 2013 Guardian expose that brought debates about surveillance to a global stage, inspiring both the USA Freedom Act and the European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulation. Since then, whistleblowers like Cambridge Analytica alum Christopher Wylie, former Facebook data scientists Sophie Zhang, and former Apple contractor Thomas le Bonniec have revealed abusive data practices in Big Tech., inspiring investigations, congressional hearings, and a proposed legislation. We see this conversations continuing with the relations of whistleblowers like Frances Haugen and Mark MacGann.
  • Wall Street Regulations — Through their insider knowledge and specialized expertise, financial whistleblowers have defended our bank accounts, pensions, and markets from complex corporate crimes. In the early 2000s, whistleblowers Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins paved the way for financial whistleblowers by revealing the details of the WordCom scandal and testifying about Enron’s collapse. Their testimony inspired the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which established new reporting regulations and required corporations to establish whistleblower channels. When the Sarbanes-Oxley Act proved to be ineffective in preventing the 2007 financial crisis, four more whistleblowersstepped forward to help regulators recover billions from banks and inspire stronger regulations through the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Their struggle to raise the alarm in advance motivated the inclusion of strong protections for Wall Street whistleblowers in the Dodd-Frank Act. Using the protections established in the Dodd-Frank Act, whistleblowers have since helped regulators recover $3.7 billion.
  • Financial Transparency and Tax Justice — Whistleblowers have also provided momentum for global tax reform. In 2014, LuxLeaks whistleblowers Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet revealed Luxembourg’s corporate tax avoidance schemes. Between 2013 and 2018, former Danske Bank employee Howard Wilkinson risked his career to blow the whistle on one of the biggest money laundering cases in history. Bradley Birkenfeld used the U.S. IRS whistleblower lawto blow the whistle on the secret Swiss banking system. After Birkenfeld’s disclosures, more than 56,000 delinquent taxpayers came forward, leading to the collection of more than $16 billion in unpaid taxes. Revelations from these disclosures have helped build momentum to tackle transnational tax evasion and to negotiate a global minimum tax ratefor corporations.

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National Whistleblower Center

National Whistleblower Center

National Whistleblower Center is the leading nonprofit working with whistleblowers around the world to fight corruption and protect people and the environment.