Top firms ‘don’t encourage whistleblowers’

human resources, business, interviewMost of Australia’s biggest companies have codes of conduct and whistleblowing systems that are either not up to scratch or are poorly implemented, according to an organisation representing some of Australia’s largest superannuation funds.

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors said there are big gaps in codes of conduct and whistleblowing systems put in place in order to ensure a healthy corporate culture.

ASCI chief executive Louise Davidson said codes of conduct at just seven per cent of the top 200 ASX-listed companies meet her organisation’s definition of leading practice, while 19 per cent don’t even mention whistleblowing, or how to report wrongdoing.

This means unethical behaviour can go unreported, she said.

“I find it hard to fathom that so many of Australia’s largest listed companies tolerate such significant gaps in their codes of conduct and whistleblowing systems,” Davidson said.

“This represents a material risk to their reputation, licence to operate and value.”

The ASCI study found about 67 per cent of companies cover only five of the 13 recommended topics in their codes of conduct.

Some of those topics excluded include fair dealing, data protection and cybercrime, anti-money laundering and human rights.

The research also shows that most ASX200 codes of conduct do not include an introduction by the chief executive, do not provide practical tools to assist employees to apply the code of conduct, and are not regularly reviewed.

Key features such as anonymity, accessibility and the avoidance of retaliation are also missing from many of the whistleblowing systems examined, the report said.

“Unless codes of conduct provide guidance to employees on where to go to report misconduct and other important information such as how reporters will be protected then how can companies expect their whistleblowing systems to be effective?” Ms Davidson said.

“This is a significant missed opportunity.”

The ACSI has made a set of recommendations including implementing regular reviews, using practical case studies to promote understanding and ensuring greater protection for staff who report wrongdoing.

“You can’t say you’re serious about improving corporate culture if you have a code of conduct and whistleblowing system that provides piecemeal coverage, poor usability and weak accessibility,” Ms Davidson said.

“Companies need to move beyond a tick the box mentality and ensure their approach actually works.”

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