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Whistleblowing systems will help the food industry address wrongdoing

21 August 2022

Employers across the food sector are starting to establish whistleblowing channels to help their employees report concerns about discrimination, fraud and other abuses, says Chancelle Blakey. 



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Employers across the food sector are starting to establish whistleblowing channels to help their employees report concerns about discrimination, fraud and other abuses, says Chancelle Blakey.

However, this trend isn’t commonplace in the industry. While, many other business sectors have recognised they need do more to prevent or reduce corruption, bad behaviour and human rights abuses, the food industry is still lagging behind others.

Problems exist across the industry, where several food production scandals – for instance the horsemeat scandal of the last decade – have brought wrongdoing in the food supply chain into sharp focus.

Add to this an increased awareness of modern slavery occurring within supply chains through forced labour – with one UK government statistic estimating 13% of all potential forced labour victims come from the food sector. 

The simple fact is that having a whistleblowing service and anti-bribery and anti-food crime clauses in place within supply chain contracts should be one of the most basic elements of commercial arrangements.

Whistleblowing hotlines and protocols can prevent or reduce a range of crimes in the sector. A list of food crime, as defined by the NCFU and refined following the 2013 Horsemeat Scandal in Europe report, include:

• Theft - dishonestly obtaining food, drink or feed products to profit from their use or sale
• Illegal processing - slaughtering or preparing meat and related products in unapproved premises or using unauthorised techniques
• Waste diversion - illegally diverting food, drink or feed meant for disposal, back into the supply chain
• Adulteration - including a foreign substance which is not on the product’s label to lower costs or fake a higher quality
• Substitution - replacing a food or ingredient with another substance that is similar but inferior
• Misrepresentation - marketing or labelling a product to wrongly portray its quality, safety, origin or freshness
• Document fraud - making, using or possessing false documents with the intent to sell or market a fraudulent or substandard product

These specific issues run alongside the more recognisable wrongdoing in the workplace, which include bribery, bullying and harassment, discrimination, and modern slavery. There is a compelling case to be made for robust whistleblowing reporting systems in most businesses employing more than 50 people.

Regulators in the food sector have always highlighted the importance of having robust due diligence procedures. But often this is not enough, especially when many food manufacturers are still lagging far behind regulatory best practice.

That’s why regulation is increasingly demanding food industry businesses become proactive in their preventative actions, which brings us to whistleblowing systems. There are many benefits to adopting a whistleblowing management system:

Helps prevent or reduces fraud – on average, organisations with a whistleblowing hotline as one of their internal controls see a 49% reduction in the total number of frauds and a 33% reduction in the duration of a fraud (research by BRCGS).

Helps prevent or avoid financial penalties – significant penalties can be imposed by the courts for food safety offences right up to and including a possible fine for each offence,
and a possible prison sentence.

Helps prevent or contain any reputational damage – having advanced knowledge of any wrongdoing before it is exposed proactively helps senior management manage any public relations fallout. Being able to prove that procedures were followed, and due diligence took place can help mitigate the worst effects of wrongdoing. 

Helps prevent or minimise the stress from wrongdoing incidents – take into consideration the stress and effect on the mental well-being of both management and employees from any exposure of wrongdoing.

Provides real insight into the business for senior management – whistleblowing can be used as a gauge of ‘business well-being.’  It gives senior leaders within the organisation tangible data on potential issues that can then be managed

Morale – it is no coincidence that the Corruption Perceptions Index, that scores countries on the level of corruption in the public sector, matches almost perfectly with the analysis of whistleblowing systems around the world by UN.

Confidentiality, anonymity, and protection after a whistleblower has blown the whistle acts as a positive force versus wrongdoing.

Regulators know protections for whistleblowers have an essential part of in combatting wrongdoing, and that is why external whistleblowing services – where anonymity can be maintained - are ideal.

A happier workforce is a workforce that trusts they are being looked after.

Taking a lead in this world-wide crackdown on corruption and wrongdoing is the EU, with the EU Whistleblowing Directive that came into force in December of 2021.

In essence, the directive required member states of the EU to enact minimum levels of national legislation for the protection of whistleblowers within their country. With only a few exceptions, these new whistleblowing rules and regulations apply to all businesses and organisations with more than 250 employees or volunteers.

And going even further, the directive will also be implemented for businesses and organisations with more than 50 employees by the end of 2023.

This even applies to many organisations outside the EU – including the UK – that have offices, supply lines or sell within the EU.

Chancelle Blakey is business development manager at Safecall.


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