‘Whistleblowing’: Recent Cases and Legal Protection

In a recent article on Lioness.co, Yasser Elabd, a former Senior Director in Microsoft tells his story and alleges that corruption is at the heart of the company. Unfortunately, Elabd is only one among countless whistleblowers who have called out the corrupt system of many companies and institutions.

Whistleblowing, revealing, and exposing fraudulent or illegal activity within a private or public organization, is far from being a new concept. Considering the risks involved, laws and directives have been established under particular conditions and circumstances to protect whistleblowers worldwide. 

However, laws supporting the protection of whistleblowers can be difficult to establish on an international level. Therefore, countries face multiple challenges concerning the legal framework of the whistleblower.

Elabd, formerly a Senior Director at Microsoft, was recruited in 1998 and had been in charge of sales in the Middle East and Africa. When Microsoft’s business boomed in the area, the writing was on the wall. 

He later discovered that large amounts of money were illegally transferred to African countries for a deal with a partner neither eligible nor qualified for an investment fund from Microsoft. Following his discovery, Elabd informed his superiors about the issue, but although the ‘fake’ deal was eventually not closed, the employees behind it were not interrogated.

Once the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, was notified of the issue, Elabd was cut out of business trips and deals. He was also told that he became “one of the most hated persons in Africa.”

After some research, the former Senior Director laid hands on some evidence of the existence of more illegal activity in the Middle East. He found out that other people around the world, including auditors and government officials have raised red flags multiple times.

Elabd was dismissed in June 2018 after having refused to be put on a “performance improvement plan”. It was until 2020 that the former Microsoft employee started to conduct his research on the company.

Other Whistleblower Cases

Exposing institutions and businesses is not a new practice. It dates back to centuries ago when regimes, for example, were exposed. Cases involved governments, intelligence and security services, nuclear power industries, administrations, government departments, pharmaceutical companies, etc.

A case in point is the “Facebook Files” case which occurred in 2021, involving product manager Frances Haugen who revealed internal documents. These showed that the company was fully aware of the harmful effects of Instagram on teenage users, and it also proved that Facebook (now called Meta) contributed to violent practices in developing countries. The Wall Street Journal posted a podcast series on the issue discussing the content of the documents.

The Legal Protection of Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers have been disclosing information for the general interest in both private and public sectors. Since unveiling secrets can be interpreted as infringement and can lead to retaliation, the protection of the whistleblowers is at the heart of democracy. Whistleblowers are now protected by the law in order to fight against corruption.

In the Anti-Bribery Convention of 17 December 1997, the members of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) have criminalized acts of bribery of foreign public officials. Other conventions include the Civil Law Convention on Corruption No.174 on 4 November 1999 and No.173 on 27 January 1999, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, and the Organization of American States Inter-American Convention against Corruption.

Yet, there are still many other countries that do not have laws to protect whistleblowers, mainly in Northern and Central Africa.

Environmental Law Institute (2019) Environmental Rule of Law: First Global Report

Although there are laws protecting whistleblowers in over 55 countries, these encounter many challenges concerning whistleblowers’ legal status to this day. Indeed, there aren’t any standards or criteria that apply to whistleblowers on an international level. It is thus difficult to build an international legal framework to protect them.

References

Convention on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development—OECD. (n.d.). Retrieved April 5, 2022, from https://www.oecd.org/general/conventionontheorganisationforeconomicco-operationanddevelopment.htm

Lioness. (2022, March 25). Microsoft is using illegal bribes in the Middle East and Africa. Why is the SEC turning a blind eye? Lioness.Co. https://www.lioness.co/post/microsoft-is-using-illegal-bribes-in-the-middle-east-and-africa-why-is-the-sec-turning-a-blind-eye

Microsoft Whistleblower Alleges Corruption, Financial Bribery Schemes: SEC and DOJ Reluctant to Investigate? (2022, April 1). Whistleblower Network News. https://whistleblowersblog.org/foreign-corruption-whistleblowers/microsoft-whistleblower-alleges-corruption-financial-bribery-schemes-sec-and-doj-reluctant-to-investigate/

Whistleblower Laws Around the World. (n.d.). National Whistleblower Center. Retrieved April 5, 2022, from https://www.whistleblowers.org/whistleblower-laws-around-the-world/

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