Providers of independent safe reporting facilities are assessed against our External Whistle-blowing Hotline Service Provider Standard (EO1.1.1). This is not a certification of internal whistle-blowing lines, where companies host their own safe reporting processes in-house, but a certification of companies who offer a hotline as a service to clients.
The primary purpose of the assessment and certification is to protect the whistle-blower who is doing the right thing by reporting unethical conduct, often at personal risk. This person must be able to trust that their report will be treated in a confidential, safe and timeous manner. We maintain that an official, externally-provided certification will give peace of mind to the whistle-blower, knowing that the line they are using has been assessed by an expert and deemed reliable.
It is for this reason that The Ethics Institute developed the assessment instrument, in collaboration with industry players and whistle-blowing experts, in 2008. It has been used since for most independent ethics line service providers in South Africa.
An ethics line that is successful in fulfilling the criteria holds the certification for 12 months, after which it has to undergo the assessment again to ensure that quality is maintained. A high-level summary of the criteria follows:
- Independence: Is the ethics line a self-contained, ring-fenced entity, and have conflicts of interest been identified and avoided? The assessor ensures that the staff managing the ethics line do so exclusively – i.e. they do not serve any other roles within the company that provides the safe-reporting service. The assessor reviews evidence that potential conflicts of interest have been identified, declared and avoided, so that no ethics line staff have relationships or dealings with client companies. The assessor also ensures that the ethics line staff do not solicit services on behalf of the company to client companies.
- Anonymity: Can the anonymity of the whistle-blower be guaranteed? The assessor reviews the format and content of feedback to client companies to ensure that no identifying information of any kind about the whistle-blower is included.
- Accuracy: Are reports received by the ethics line reported back to the client company accurately? The assessor reviews incoming information against the manner in which the ethics line reported it back to the client company. It is critical that the testimony of the whistle-blower is not lost in translation, and the call centre staff must be sufficiently trained to achieve this. The assessor also makes certain that sufficient quality checks are in place to ensure accurate reporting.
- Timeous feedback: Are reports responded to in the timeframe that the service provider agreed with the client company? The assessor reviews the archive of reports received and responded to per client company, and assesses whether response times meet the response time that was agreed with the client company.
- Security: Is the facility able to guarantee secure storage of whistle-blowers’ reports? The assessor does a full security site check of both physical and digital data storage.
- Discreetness of facility: Is there any external branding that could attract undue attention to the safe reporting facility or connect it with the parent company? The assessor ensures that the facility has no externally visible signs that would attract undue attention. This is connected with the importance of physical security of data records.
The following service providers are currently certified, for the periods indicated below.