Although "transparency" and "values" have become favorite corporate buzzwords, high-powered boardrooms are, as always, tempted to cross over to the dark side.
Enron employee Sharon Watkins became the most spectacular example of corporate whistleblowing when she exposed former Enron chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay's very questionable accounting practices in 2002 -- resulting in thousands of employees losing their retirement and savings plans while corporate officers ran off with the store.
One positive outcome was passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which made sweeping reforms to corporate governance law, and provided whistleblower protection to employees of public companies.
Since then, the rise of the Internet has given an international platform for calling out corruption (see: Wikileaks and Anonymous), but the individual act of whistleblowing puts personal fortunes and careers on the line.
In short, whistleblowing, whether it be political or corporate, often remains a David-and-Goliath battle fraught with danger. Companies may retaliate by "shooting the messenger" by outright firing or demotions or with damaging blows to reputations and blacklisting within the industry.
Financial payouts for corporate whistleblowing were finally established in 2010 -- with the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill -- which provided a monetary incentive for reporting improprieties to the SEC.
As a direct result, blowing the whistle on banking fraud continued to make news headlines near the close of 2011 -- as former company employees of Citibank and Bank of America sounded off on widespread illegal practices by the biggest Wall Street banks. Yet monetary or other rewards for those who risked whistleblowing in the US financial sector have yet to materialize.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration's crackdown on governmental whistleblowers put a chlling effect on speaking truth to power in Washington DC. Most famously, Edward Snowden, was an insider in the US National Security Agency who exposed potentially illegal spying methods of the NSA starting in June 2013. To avoid government prosecution he later sought asylum in Moscow, and today is reportedly seeking similar protection from within the European Union.
Just up ahead, find out more about the delicate balance between proper behavior and self-preservation, with tips and advice from business experts and those who have been there, trying their best to keep the corporate world honest:
Fairness.com - Whistleblowing - Good overview of whistleblower headline news with links to reports and feature articles dating back to
Whistleblower.org- Corporate Accountability - More archived media stories from various sources around the Web, including an overview and summary of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and mission statement from the
Government Accountability Project.
Encouraging Internal Whistleblowing in Organizations - What should be required reading for all CEO's chronicaling the history of
U.S. corporate whistleblowing, it's goats and heroes, a guide to creating an ethical culture, recent legislative action, and