We Are Connected: The Global Reach of the Whistleblower

Jordan Thomas -

Last week, I was fortunate to travel to Australia to discuss corporate ethics and whistleblower issues with various economic, business, and political leaders. I also had the outstanding opportunity to address business and law students on the crucial importance of utilizing ethical conduct as a guiding principal for one’s career. As I have previously discussed, I firmly believe that the absence of ethical cultures is at the heart of the vast majority of significant financial scandals, and it is encouraging to see this topic is an important issue to so many Australian audiences. 

It is a fascinating time to conduct these conversations with Australians, as the country is at a key juncture in the national discussion of how best to find and prevent corporate fraud and corruption. Numerous government and corporate entities are currently investigating legal reform and policy initiatives to better protect and encourage whistleblowers in the country's financial services industry. In late 2014, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), Australia’s financial services regulator, established an Office of the Whistleblower. And just this month, the government announced increased funding and reforms to further empower ASIC to fight financial fraud.

However, as I noted in many of my discussions in Australia, we live in an increasingly global and interconnected financial market system. This fact is profoundly evident in the worldwide success of the SEC Whistleblower Program. Since the program’s initiation, the SEC has received whistleblower tips from individuals in 95 countries outside the United States. In fiscal year 2015, approximately 10 percent of all whistleblower tips came from overseas. And these tips have led to significant enforcement actions. In fact, the largest award to date, which the SEC announced in 2014, was a $30 million bounty paid to a whistleblower living in a foreign country.

The international impact of the SEC Whistleblower Program is not the result of happenstance. The program was designed with an understanding that our global economies can yield global securities fraud. Therefore, the SEC’s program extends to possible securities violations that occur anywhere in the world, regardless of a whistleblower’s individual citizenship. While each case is different and jurisdictional issues can be complex, a whistleblower complaint may be brought against an entity or individual if they have investors, investments, operations, employees, or clients in the U.S.

As I continue speaking with international audiences, I am heartened to see many individuals and organizations actively engaged in the discussion of how to build and maintain ethical and transparent cultures. While each nation obviously faces its own needs and challenges in developing appropriate standards and regulations, corporate wrongdoing is not a country-specific issue. It affects every single commercial marketplace, and we must continue these discussions, and work together if we wish to create real and lasting integrity in our markets. If you are interested in learning more about the SEC Whistleblower Program, or would like to discuss a specific issue or concern, please see here.