Sunday, March 05, 2006

Up all Night

The attention around individuals or “Whistleblowers,” has taken center stage in the past few years do to huge corporate cover-ups by what were considered industry icons. Corporate scandals such as Enron, and Tyco only enforce the notion of examining whistleblowing in more detail. One must first understand what exactly whistleblowing is and what constitutes the action of. There are two theories presented in Michael Davis’s article Some Paradoxes of Whistleblowing, the standard and the complicity theory. What constitutes whistleblowing differs for both.

Whistleblowing must be justified by one of three constraints. An act may be justified if morality permits it, morality requires one to take action, or the act is rationally required. It is the act one takes in revealing information that would otherwise not be known to other parties. It is the intention someone takes to prevent harm of others. Only a member of an organization in question can be considered a whistleblower. This excludes outside parties whom are actively engaged in seeking out incriminating information.

The standard theory continues this train of thought and defines five conditions of whistleblowing that must be met in order to be considered as such. The first requirement holds that in order for an act to be considered whistleblowing is considered permissible when one believes his organization will inflict harm on the public. The second requires that one has already identified to his supervisor the potential threat to the public and comes to the realization that this person will do nothing to rectify the situation. One would then make use of as many other internal measures as possible to alert others of the potential for harm.

The forth and fifth requirements must be satisfied when whistleblowing is morally required. That is, one would be able to convince an outside party that the threat is real. This leads to the last condition which is that the would-be whistleblower believes that by revealing the threat the harm will be diminished.

Davis identifies three paradoxes with regards to the standard theory. The first paradox is coined “the paradox of burden.” That is sometimes the whistleblower accepts risk to their financial, and personal lifestyles. The second paradox has to do with harm. These harms do not include justice, deception, or waste. The last deals with failure to prevent harm. The standard theory states that one must believe that revealing information will prevent harm, but history has shown that not much harm has been prevented by whistleblowing.

The complicity theory holds that whistleblowers an actively involved in the activity they reveal. Davis sketched what he believes to be the constraints that constitute a moral requirement to reveal something to the public. First that what is revealed comes from one’s job within an organization. Second that one is voluntarily working for the organization. This differs from the standard theory in that the standard believes voluntariness to be not very important. The third condition has to do with if the would-be whistleblower believes the organization is morally wrong. Opposed to the standard theory this does not require harm for justification. Believing that one is contributing to this moral wrong is the forth constraint. Davis points out that this does not mean one believes that if he stops work the wrong will be prevented, but only that one would have contributed to the wrong in the future. The fifth holds that the one is justified in the third and forth constraint while the sixth holds that both are also true.

In the movie The Insider, Jeffrey Wigand is a research scientist who is fired from his employer for objecting to certain lab tests. He signs a confidentiality agreement to ease the company's nervousness but eventually breaks that agreement after convincing from a reporter. Wigand is then recruited by the state of Mississippi to testify on its behalf that cigarettes are, in fact, addictive.

Is this whistleblowing? According to Davis’s complicity theory we have to meet the six constraints mentioned before. Wigand easily satisfies the first two. The information he revealed did indeed come from his former place of work and he was a voluntary member the organization. Although we do not know for certain Wigand’s beliefs, we will assume that he did believe the organization was involved in moral wrongdoings. Continuing through the constraints we find that they are all met, hence Wigand’s acts could be described as whistleblowing.

As briefly shown here, it is not merely enough to reveal any piece of information and consider it to be whistleblowing. There are a number, depending on which theory used, of constraints that must be satisfied in order for the act to be justified.

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