Global Ethics Hotline Complexity

On September 23, 2011, the French court upheld a decision to suspend a whistleblower program for a US-based global corporation.  This highlights the complexity of dealing with different whistleblower hotline provisions in different countries.  In the US, hotline anonymity is prized; whereas, in France, it is discouraged.  In France, the hotline incidents may only cover financial and accounting concerns and other reported incidents must be expunged.

The company with the suspended hotline implemented the hotline through a third party provider.  This provider and the company crafted the EU website communication to state that EU hotline reports only allow the user to report certain issues, such as financial, accounting, and auditing matters.  The company even received an advanced approval from the French data protection authority (“CNIL”).  The French court ruled this wasn’t enough.

The court decided to suspend the hotline because French employee representative groups were not consulted before rolling out the program, the internal company communication did not notify French employees of their rights to eliminate or delete reports that contained personal information, the website did not clearly limit the French reporting scope, and the hotline website communication seemed to encourage anonymity.

This information should be used to reposition an existing hotline or implement a new hotline covering French employees.  More generally, global organizations should consult with local country legal counsel in each country where a hotline is implemented.  Existing Ethical Advocate clients with French hotline coverage should contact their account manager to review the applicability of the above findings.