Fear of reprisals and victimisation hold workers back from reporting damage to the environment.
- Workers say they’d hold back from raising issues about environmental damage because of fear of reprisals, concerns about providing proof and worries their concern wouldn’t be dealt with properly.
- Only a third (36%) of workers believe they can raise environmental issues and be protected under whistleblowing law.
- Less than 1% of calls to Protect’s whistleblowing Advice Line relate to environmental concerns (In 2022, only 6 of 2,500 calls).
New research by the UK’s whistleblowing charity Protect has found the main barriers to workers identifying environmental issues at work are fear of reprisals (22%), concerns about providing proof (22%) and worries their concern wouldn’t be dealt with properly (20%).
Of those who had raised an environmental issue or damage at work in the last two years a third (33%) reported their concerns were ignored. 74% of the environmental whistleblowers who contacted Protect over the last 10 years said they faced negative treatment for raising environmental concerns.
A YouGov survey* commissioned by Protect shows too many workers are unaware of their legal rights when it comes to raising a concern about environmental issues in the workplace. Only a third (36%) of workers said they knew there was a law that protects environmental whistleblowers. Over half (51%) surveyed were unaware whether or not they had protection, and 13% said whistleblowers are not protected if they speak out on environmental issues at work.
In 2022 fewer than 1% of all calls to Protect’s own confidential Advice Line related to environmental issues. During the same period, the top three categories of calls focused on working practices and governance, ethical concerns and work safety.
Caitlín Comins, Legal Officer at Protect said:
“Low numbers of environmental whistleblowing reporting are surprising and concerning. Our survey shows a widespread lack of awareness of the law or how to raise a concern. Whistleblowers have far too important a role to play in addressing environmental issues for them to be ignored and victimised. Our new Environmental Whistleblowing Toolkit provides the practical information workers need to speak up and raise a concern with confidence. Knowledge is power, and giving workers the know-how will ensure they’re better informed to speak up and stop harm when they see it.”
Case study: Tom** was a manager of a gas plant who was fired after raising concerns about serious regulatory breaches, including defects in the structure of the plant causing damage to the environment and risks to health and safety. Tom contacted Protect’s free Advice Line and received guidance on his rights and how to claim under whistleblowing law.
Whistleblower, Tom said:
“I raised concerns about serious regulatory and environmental breaches at a gas plant which had real environmental impact. The company refused to do anything until I spoke out to the regulator. My whistleblowing eventually led to regulatory intervention and a fine against the company. But this came at a cost: I was bullied and eventually dismissed because of my whistleblowing. It was not easy, but I don’t think I could have done anything else. I had to do what I knew was right. I’m very glad I found Protect. The advice and support they gave me really helped to hold the company to account for wrongdoing and to defend my rights as a whistleblower.”
**name has been changed to protect identity
To support would-be whistleblowers to speak up Protect has produced an interactive Environmental Whistleblowing Toolkit full of practical step-by-step guidance on how to go about raising a concern and the legal protections in place. Drafted with the assistance of trade unions, lawyers, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and journalists, it provides clear information on whistleblowing in the workplace, to help workers to raise environmental concerns safely and with maximum impact.
Workers inside organisations are the most likely to be first to spot environmental harms, which could include a wide range of wrongdoing, harm, and damage; everything from making false claims about the sustainability of a product, the illegal dumping of chemicals into a river, or disposing refuse incorrectly or fly-tipping.
However, despite 82% of the public saying they’re concerned about climate change Protect has found that very few workers call its Advice Line with environmental concerns and even fewer contact regulators.
The Environment Agency for England, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Wales, the environmental regulators under a duty to annually report data on whistleblowing concerns reported to them, received a total of 38 disclosures between them in the reporting year 2020/2021.
Caitlín Comins, Legal Officer at Protect said:
“Workers are the eyes and ears of an organisation and are best placed to spot when things go wrong. With the right information, they can raise concerns and damage can be prevented, minimising the impact on the environment. By exposing environmental wrongdoing, they can also help ensure organisations are accountable for their climate impact and there is appropriate intervention where required.”
Natalie Prosser, CEO of the Office for Environmental Protection said:
“The OEP recognises the importance of whistleblowing and how vital it is that whistleblowers have a safe space for making disclosures within their own organisations as well as to a prescribed person, such as ourselves. We also recognise the challenges and risks inherent for whistleblowers. We are committed to providing qualifying whistleblowers with an avenue to report their concerns. It is critical that we do this alongside other prescribed persons, now more than ever, to ensure that potential threats to the natural environment can be identified and where possible, guarded against.”
Michelle Singleton, UNISON’s lead officer on Climate change, said:
“We know that many workers are very concerned about the environment. It is also clear that workers across all sectors are starting to see the effects of climate change, be it pollution, extreme weather, floods or cold homes. This is the reason that we have set up our Green UNISON campaign and our UNISON Green Reps Network. I was surprised to see the low numbers of reported cases of environmental whistleblowers. We are a union that covers workers in the Environment Agency and are highly aware of the increased impacts already at play. It’s vitally important that workers are aware of their organisation’s whistleblowing procedures and their right to raise environmental concerns, and Protect’s Environmental Whistleblowing Toolkit is an important resource for any worker who comes across an environmental concern in the workplace.”
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact:
- Mark Ellis, Head of Commmunications firstname.lastname@example.org
- Andy Pepper-Parsons, Director of Policy & Communications email@example.com Tel: 07920 016317
Protect is the UK’s whistleblowing charity and is a leading authority on whistleblowing in the UK. It aims to protect the public interest by helping workers to speak up to stop harm and wrongdoing. We support whistleblowers by providing free and confidential legal advice. We support employers to implement effective whistleblowing arrangements and campaign for legal and policy reform to better protect whistleblowing.
Since 1993 Protect has supported more than 50,000 individual whistleblowers, and our free and confidential Advice Line supports around 2,500 cases each year.
Protect is lobbying for legal reform of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 and has drafted new whistleblowing legislation.
About the Environmental Whistleblowing toolkit
Protect’s Environmental Whistleblowing Toolkit is a practical and legal guide to raising environmental concerns. It offers guidance on whistleblowing in the workplace to help anyone raise concerns safely and with maximum impact. The Toolkit includes information about what constitutes an environmental concern, practical guidance on how and where to raise concerns, and information on what legal rights you may have. The guide was drafted with help from trade unions, lawyers, Non-Governmental Organisations and journalists.
You can download a copy of the full Environmental Toolkit here.
Total sample size was 2088 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 1st – 2nd August 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
36% of all workers (net) said that whistleblowers who speak out on environmental issues at work are protected under UK law.
SPE_Q8. If you were to come across environmental issues at work…Which, if any, of the following would make you not take action or raise concerns? (Please select all that apply)
|I would be afraid of reprisals||22%|
|I would worry I can’t prove the damage||22%|
|I would not believe it would be dealt with appropriately||20%|
|It would not make a difference (i.e., no action would be taken)||18%|
|I would be afraid of being identified||15%|
|I would not want to damage my career||15%|
|I would worry that managers were involved in the wrongdoing||12%|
|I would worry about the response of colleagues towards me||12%|
|I would not know how to||9%|
|I would think it is none of my business||6%|
|Don’t know /not sure||34%|
|Prefer not to say||4%|
SPE_Q4. You mentioned that you have raised a concern about environmental issues or damage at work in the last two years… Which ONE, if any, of the following best describes the response that was taken to your concern? (Please select the option that best applies. If your answer is not shown in the list below, please type it in the other box provided)
|Action was taken||32%|
|The concerns are still being investigated||13%|
|The concerns were denied||11%|
|The concerns were ignored||33%|
|Don’t know /not sure||8%|
|Prefer not to say||3%|