Ethics and whistle blowing : an investigation of the moral justification and framework for the practice of whistle blowing

Mafela, Muvhulawa Simon (2002-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--University of Stellenbosch, 2002.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This research project examines the concept and practice of whistle blowing with the aim of answering the fundamental question: when is whistle blowing morally justified or unjustified? While the different forms of whistle blowing receive attention, the focus is on the corporate world, or non-governmental whistle blowing. Whistle blowing in the corporate world has become a moral and strategic point of debate with the issue being how it can be employed as a mechanism against corruption and other forms of abuse in a way that is fair to employees, employers, and the public .. The project focuses on the moral justification of whistle blowing and the ethical framework within which it needs to function. The methodology used is that of an extensive literature study. The views of researchers' from different countries are discussed and analyzed, and the deontological and utilitarian approaches to ethical decision-making are used to arrive at deductive conclusions. It is concluded that from an ethical viewpoint, employees are morally obliged to blow the whistle to prevent potential harm to e.g. the public or the environment. Specific conditions must be satisfied, however, before whistle blowing against a corporation or employer can be regarded as morally justified. With reference to the views of researchers and a South African case study, it is established that whistle blowers need to be protected against retaliation from employers and that legislation in this regard has been lacking. An important mechanism to protect whistle blowers would be the introduction of laws to protect them against retaliatory actions such as dismissals or demotion. One of the aims of South Africa's Protected Disclosures Act (Act. No. 26, 2000) is to protect employees against any occupational detriment as a result of having blown the whistle in a manner consistent with the conditions outlined in the Act. It Is concluded that it is to the advantage of employers to promote a culture in which justified and responsible whistle blowing is encouraged and protected. Suggested ways to achieve this include developing an ethic of whistle blowing, involving unions, introducing rewards, instituting codes of ethics, and establishing specific complaint recipients within organizations. On the basis of a US case study and a study of relevant literature, it is concluded that employers and corporations also need to be protected against unethical whistle blowing. By laying down conditions that have to be met before an act of whistle blowing can be justified, the Protected Disclosures Act (Act No. 26, 2000) provides protection in this regard. The study concludes with a critical appraisal of the positive as well as the negative aspects of the Protected Disclosures Act. The Act provides the necessary legal framework and guidelines for fair and responsible whistle blowing with protection for both employees and employers, and as such could help to reduce crime and corruption in both the public and private sectors. In the South African context of high levels of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, however, certain shortcomings are identified that may diminish the potential value of the Act.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie navorsingsprojek ondersoek die konsep en praktyk van onthulling ("whistle blowing") met die doeI om die fundamentele vraag te beantvlloord: wanneer is onthulling moreel geregverdig of ongeregverdig? Hoewel daar gekyk word na die verskillende vorms wat onthulling kan aanneem is die fokus op die korporatiewe wêreld, of nieregeringsonthulling. Onthulling het in die korporatiewe wêreld 'n morele en strategiese besprekingspunt geword, met die strydvraag hoe dit as 'n meganisme teen korrupsie en ander skadelike praktyke aangewend kan word op 'n manier wat billik teenoor werknemers, werkgewers en die publiek is. Die projek fokus op die morele regverdiging van onthulling en die etiese raamwerk waarbinne dit moet funksioneer. Die metodologie behels 'n omvattende literatuurstudie. Die sienings van navorsers van verskillende lande word bespreek en ontleed, en die deontologiese en utilitaristiese benaderings tot etiese besluitneming word gebruik om deduktiewe afleidings te maak. Die gevolgtrekking is dat uit 'n etiese oogpunt, werknemers moreel verplig is om as onthulIers op te tree om potensiële skade vir bv. die publiek of die omgewing te voorkom. Daar moet egter aan spesifieke voorwaardes voldoen word voordat onthulling wat 'n korporasie of werkgewer benadeel, as moreel geregverdig beskou kan word. Met verwysing na die sienings van navorsers en 'n Suid-Afrikaanse gevallestudie word vasgestel dat onthulIers beskerm moet word teen wraakneming van werkgewers en dat wetgewing in hierdie verband ontbreek het. 'n Belangrike meganisme om onthulIers te beskerm sou wees die instelling van wette om beskerming te bied teen vergeldingsaksies van werkgewers soos ontslag of demosie. Een van die oogmerke van Suid-Afrika se Wet op Beskermde Bekendmakings (Wet. No. 26, 2000) is om werknemers te beskerm teen enige beroepsverwante nadeel as gevolg van 'n bekendmaking wat voldoen aan die voorwaardes wat in die Wet gestipuleer word. Die gevolgtrekking word gemaak dat dit tot werkgewers se voordeel is om 'n kultuur te bevorder waar geregverdigde en verantvlloordelike onthulling aangemoedig en beskerm word. Voorgestelde wyses waarop dit gedoen kan word, sluit in die ontwikkeling van 'n onthullingsetiek, om vakbonde te betrek, die instelling van belonings, die aanneem van etiese kodes en om spesifieke klagte-ontvangers binne organisasies te vestig. Na aanleiding van 'n VSA-gevallestudie en 'n studie van tersaaklike literatuur word die gevolgtrekking gemaak dat werkgewers en korporasies ook teen onetiese onthulling beskerm moet word. Die Wet op Beskermde Bekendmakings (Wet No. 26, 2000) bied beskerming in hierdie verband deur voorwaardes te stipuleer waaraan 'n bekendmaking moet voldoen voordat dit geregverdig is. Die studie word afgesluit met 'n kritiese evaluasie van die positiewe sowel as die negatiewe aspekte van die Wet op Beskermde Bekendmakings. Die Wet stel die nodige wetlike raamwerk en riglyne vir billike en verantwoordelike onthulling daar met beskerming vir werknemers sowel as werkgewers, en as sulks kan dit help om misdaad en korrupsie in beide die openbare en die private sektor te laat afneem. In die Suid- Afrikaanse konteks van hoë vlakke van armoede, ongeletterdheid en werkloosheid word daar egter bepaalde gebreke geïdentifiseer wat die potensiële waarde van die Wet mag verminder.

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