Promote Effective Whistle Blowing Philosophy Essay

To promote effective whistle-blowing, Singapore had establish a framework under the Singapore Code of Corporate Governance where one guideline stated that the AC (audit committee) should review the policy and arrangements by which staff of the company or other persons may raise concerns about possible improprieties in matters of financial reporting or other matters. Arrangements for such concerns to be raised must also in place and independently investigated, and for appropriate follow-up action to be taken. The existence of a whistle-blowing policy should be disclosed in the company’s Annual Report, and procedures for raising such concerns should be publicly disclosed as appropriate. Implementing such procedures can promote whistle-blowing as it legitimize whistle-blowing and provide formal channels for resolving complaints (Near and Miceli, 1995).

This essay will explore several ethical points of views to justify if employees should have the duty to whistle-blow on unethical or illegal acts: utilitarianism, an ethical framework which focuses on the outcomes or results of actions deontology; an ethical theory which is concerned moral actions.

Utilitarianism is defined as the ethical tradition which directs us to make decision based on overall consequences of our action (Hartman and Desjardins 2008). Weeks and Nantel (1996) also claims that an one acting on utilitarianism considers the maximum benefits towards its beneficiaries. An action is considered good or right if it results in more good consequences over the bad ones (Beauchamp and Bowie, 1997: 22). Therefore, a utilitarian would attempt to actions that will maximize net social bene¬ts as a result of their actions (Lamsa, 1999: 346). Bentham (1781) claims that human beings are utilitarian by nature. Bentham (1781) says that when reasoning a moral decision from a utilitarian view, a highly sophisticated hedonic calculus which constitutes of seven considerations, are involved. These considerations comprises of intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, purity, fecundity and extent. The category ‘extent’ measures the degree of our moral decisions impacting others. Hence, it is consistent that utilitarian calculations are used to consider the well-being of others as a heavily weighted factor in determining a course of action (Bentham, 1781).

Deontology

On contrary to utilitarianism, deontology is maintains that the morality of an action is based on series of rules and principles, rather than the consequences of the action. According to Kant (1780), to act in a morally right way, one should act from duty, regardless of the consequences (Kitson and Campbell, 1996: 13). Kant (1780) argues that the “good will” of a person cannot be determined by the consequences of the act of willing as good consequences could be resulted by accident from an action motivated by bad intentions, whereas bad consequences could be resulted from an action with good intentions. He claims that a person with good will ‘acts out of respect for the moral law’ as they feel they have a duty to do so. Kant suggested that an action is only morally right if you were willing to have everyone act in a similar way in a similar situation (Lamsa, 1999: 347). Kant believed that actions should respect underlying moral law; a person’s motives should re¬‚ect recognition of a duty to act – and that morality provides a rational framework of rules, which constrains and guides people (Beauchamp and Bowie, 1997: 33; Kant, 2000: 54-5).

So should employees have the duty to whistle-blow?

Both ethical theories of utilitarianism and deontology discusses whistle-blowing in the context of moral duty. Whistle-blowers acting on the theory of utilitarianism would consider about the likely outcomes of their decision and will only blow the whistle if the rewards outweigh the costs (Southwood, 2001) whereas for those who are acting on the theory of deontology will blow the whistle if they think is morally right as moral obligations are irrelevant with the consequences.

Using Bentham’s utilitarian perspective, one can argue that the negative effects of whistle-blowing can outweigh the rewards. So while an individual aims to disclose the unethical behaviours of an organisation so as to prevent the organisation from further wrongdoings, one would have to consider, as Bok introduced, the three types of conflicting loyalties; conflict between public interest of various sorts, conflict between loyalty and the organisation and the colleagues, and lastly the conflict between recognition and retaliation to the whistle-blower.

The first conflict is the conflict between the public interests. Potential whistle-blowers would have to consider if stepping forward is in fact for the public interest. They would measure the extent of the threat and also consider if their actions would improve. The second conflict is their loyalty to the organisation and their peers. The employees, as human beings, will naturally form relationships with their colleagues and their loyalty, respect, commitment and emotional ties will also be developed for their workplace. Hence, by enforcing a duty for employees to whistle-blow would override their loyalties and organisation.

The last conflict is the recognition and retaliation of whistle-blowing. In most cases of whistle-blowing the whistle blower stands alone against the majority; the organisation, their colleagues, the government and even their family. Hence, there would likely be a high potential of the whistle-blower suffering retaliation, such as losing their job, being called a ‘rat’ or ‘mole’ in the organisation and even suffer punishment as their organisation did if they were to be involved in the wrongdoings as well. Other severe consequences include affecting others such the whistle-blower’s family, their close peers and even the entire organization. These negative consequences can be damaging in many ways; psychologically, sociologically and otherwise. Such scenario can be related to a real case occurred in Singapore.

In 2005, in the Singapore’s National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Scandal, ex-Chief Executive Officer, T.T Durai, as well as other board of directors, were charged for misusing of public funds under the Prevention of Corruptions Act by the Police. However, before the scandal, accusations had already been about T.T Durai squandering and misusing of the funds for his own personal needs. The first two whistle-blowers, one of them being a volunteer of NKF, were summoned to court separately for defamation when both claimed that T.T. Durai had been travelling in Singapore Airlines’ first-class cabin. Both had to pay an undisclosed amount of damages to NKF and offer an apology as well. A cure-suffering father of one of the whistle-blower passed away upon learning about the law suit. The third whistle-blower was sued by NKF when she circulated an e-mail accusing the foundation of paying their staffs high bonuses instead of helping the poor and needy. She also warned the public about donating to the foundation. In results of her action, she had to pay a lump sum of S$50,000 in damages to NKF and also publish a public apology on local newspapers. After the scandal was exposed, though T.T Durai and the board members involved had been punished by the law, the three whistle-blowers had already suffered major negative consequences. Not only did the whistle-blowers not achieve their goal in disclosing the organisations’ illegal behaviour, they suffered serious punishment under the law and one of them even lost a family member indirectly as a result of his actions. Given the severity of the consequences of whistle-blowing, is it realistic for an individual to fulfil a duty to blow the whistle on unethical or illegal behaviour?

On the other hand, whistle-blowers acting on the deontological perspective are considered moral agents. This holds true according to Kants’ theory of deontology as the intention of the whistle-blowers are for the well-being of the organisation. Whistleblowing addresses the issues of benevolence. The issues of benevolence involved in whistleblowing stem from the positive effects whistleblowing can have on others since whistle-blowers, by disclosing information about organisational wrongdoing, might warn society about organizational crimes or danger and thereby prevent further wrongdoing.

However if an organisation were to impose a policy that employees have a duty to whistle-blow, they will lose such moralities and moral responsibilities and also limit their autonomy as well. While organisations introduce such policies to strengthen autonomy of the employee, it would also indicate that employees would be held accountable if they fail on their duty to whistle-blow. Therefore implementing duties to whistle-blow will turn autonomy into a liability. This would also create other imposed responsibilities for the employee as they are held responsible for what they have or have not done in relation to what they know or ought to know. Whistle-blowing policy would turn into a management tool for organisations to control their employees’ behaviour. This would result in employees not able to bring their whole-selves to work and thus limit the autonomy. Also, implementing such policies can protect organisations as they can shift responsibilities and blame to individual members.

Individuals acting on deontological principals can also be regarded as a ‘Good Samaritan’. According to Fabre (2002), a Good Samaritan has the moral and legal obligation to help others in peril; hence this would fit in to the framework of Kants’ goodwill theory. A Good Samaritan characteristics, which according to include the absence of a special relationship and the absence of a professional or contractual obligation to help those in need. A Good Samaritan, explains Fabre, is ‘a stranger who is not particularly qualified, professionally, to help, and who happens to be at the critical place, at the critical time’ (2002, 129).

McCabe (1984) raise the objections and problems that arise with the duty to rescue. These problems are also applicable to whistleblowing and need to be addressed if the duty to whistleblow is implemented. The first objection relates to the situation where numerous people are in a position to rescue but nobody does so. Who will then be held liable for the failure to rescue? A problem with organizational whistleblowing and the potential duty to rescue is that it almost always involves a number of people who are in a position to rescue. Organizational activities and actions generally involve a number of people who know or ought to know about them.

A second issue raised by McCabe is the risk of harm to the rescuer which is related to Good Samaritan laws. The risk of harm to whistleblowers is substantial as they are often harmed psychologically and financially despite any whistleblower protection that may apply to them.

The last objection that McCabe mentions is the issue of a negligent rescue. What if the rescuer is well meaning but inept and causes harm to the party he is trying to rescue? In terms of whistleblowing this may occur when the whistleblower is ill informed or mistaken and damages the organization by claiming that it has misbehaved when that in fact was not the case.

Conclusion

In this essay the likely consequences of implementing whistle-blowing as a duty for employees are explored. It is possible that if such policies were to be introduced, as employees are going to be held responsible if they were to fail their duty to whistle-blow, they would be obliged to blow the whistle regardless if the employees might suffer more severe negative consequences than the rewards they can achieve. While they have the well intention of preventing the organisation from further wrongdoings, they might suffer backlash and the consequences might not only affect the individual, but also to their family and even the organisation itself.

They enable people at work to be moral agents, who are responsible for their behaviour, and have the autonomy to behave as their conscience dictates them. However, implementing these policies may also turn responsibility into liability and increase the control of people by organisations, holding them responsible for what they do or fail to do, thus further institutionalising the organisation man or woman. This possibility makes whistleblowing policies a management tool to make people at work liable for what they do or fail to do. This second possibility also shifts responsibility of organisational behaviour to employees, making them responsible not only for reporting organisational wrongdoing but for organisational wrongdoing.

They also need to be examined in terms of likely consequences, and effect on people and organisations’ moral behaviour and responsibility.

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