5 November 2010


You all know what a whistleblower is, right? It’s somebody who reports something their company is doing wrong to either an internal or external authority. Would you do it if you found something amiss in the company you worked in? Would anybody listen to you? Would you be fired?

Remember the film based on a true story, Erin Brockovich? OK, the film wasn’t directly about a whistleblower, but Julia Roberts’ character would not have progressed her case against an energy company if she hadn’t met a whistleblower in a bar. After his information, the case took on a new sense of purpose and was eventually proved, with affected local residents getting large payouts.

Last week, a whistleblower in the company GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) was paid $60 million for informing the US drug authorities that her employer GSK had been producing drugs in a less-than-sterile environment. $60 million – not bad for telling a few tales about your employer.

The problem was that the lady concerned was quite senior in the Quality Control department and despite her reporting that these drugs were not being made to the levels specified by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nobody listened to her or did anything about the problem.

Exasperated by the issue, which eventually would have been laid at her door had it been noticed, she phoned the company chairman – who put the phone down on her! Her next step was, of course, the FDA who started an inquiry and lo and behold, she was proved correct and under the US laws she was entitled to 8% of the amount the FDA fined GSK - $750 million. As I said earlier, her cut was $60 million.

Not everybody is as 'lucky' as this lady was. One guy, whose company was regulated by the banking authorities contacted the relevant body who messed about with his ‘whistleblowing’ to the point where it was forgotten about, but not by his bosses. His desk was moved into the canteen and he became known to all his work colleagues as ‘the whistleblower . He didn’t last long.

There are whole lists of whistleblowers. There was the guy who warned the UK banking authorities about HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland) long before it nearly went bust. He said that the lending it was doing was unsustainable – but nobody listened – and eventually he was sacked.

I don’t think it will be long before somebody ‘shops’ BP or Haliburton about what exactly caused the gulf oil spill and then the big money will start to be paid out, after all BP is still on the rack for fines from the US Government and that may run into billions which means that 8% of billions is ....... quite a lot actually!

Now where's my whistle?

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