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Whistleblower Protection (Act), Sustainability, Ethics, Equal Treatment,... it's all connected!

Compliance Management is an important component of any sustainability strategy, because only ethically correct behavior in everyday business can build lasting, solid, fair and profitable relationships with investors, business partners and employees. But the Whistleblower Protection Act, for which a new draft has finally been submitted and is expected to come into force shortly, also makes a very concrete contribution to the German sustainability strategy.

The direct impact on sustainability

The law regulates the comprehensive protection of whistleblowers against disadvantages in various areas and thus makes a special contribution of its own to goal No. 16 "to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, to provide access to justice for all and to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels." The rule of law at the national and international levels and transparency are also promoted by the law, as it protects whistleblowers from reprisals and provides legal certainty, provided that reports are made in good faith.

The obligation to establish and also hierarchically equalizing internal and external reporting (for example, the Federal Ministry of Justice) channels also gives whistleblowers the opportunity to submit a report to the place where it can presumably be processed most quickly and best, and facilitates the general possibility of informing about grievances so that appropriate countermeasures can be taken.

Indirect impact - reporting violations of specific sustainability goals

According to the draft, the reporting channels that have to be set up can be used to report violations of very specific laws that serve sustainability in the ecological, social and economic areas. Ideally, this will enable violations to be uncovered and remedied at an early stage, as the comprehensive whistleblower protection provided by the law will hopefully increase the willingness to provide information.

For example, an employee who observes how a company does not properly dispose of its waste from production and thus harms the environment and people, for example through chemicals in the water, might thus be more willing to report it. In §2 of the draft, the material scope of application is defined more precisely and includes precisely health protection (sustainability goal 3: "Promote a healthy life for all people of all ages" with the subcategory to "significantly reduce the number of deaths and illnesses due to hazardous chemicals and the pollution and contamination of air, water and soil").

Reports of acts that conflict with environmental and climate change goals (for example, No. 13, the "prompt combating of climate change"; No. 14, the protection of oceans, seas, and marine resources) are also covered by the Act. Also protected are whistleblowers who wish to make reports on the very violations that are often most obvious from a Compliance Management perspective, such as corruption, white-collar crime including money laundering, or terrorist financing.

Last but not least, the sustainability goal No. 8, "to promote sustainable broad-based economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all" and to reduce inequality, is also served by the reporting options, as reports for example on discrimination cases can also be made - and since actions that prevent the goal "equal pay for work of equal value" to be reached can be reported as well! The topic of equality and fairness and "equal pay", (I recently hosted a fantastic panel discussion from the point of view of female compliance experts which you can watch here) is also supported by the law.

In this respect, if it is not anyway mandatory by law for a company to set up internal reporting channels due to the size of the company (50 or more employees), it should still be considered to provide internal reporting channels if sustainability is to be part or even flagship of the company's operations. I am happy to provide support in this regard:

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