It is easy to overlook how the dry world of legislation can have a significant impact on something as fundamental and ubiquitous as our climate. But sometimes it is these inconspicuous actors that have a surprisingly powerful effect. One example is the Whistleblower Protection Act, which came into force in Germany in 2023. In this article, we take a look at the role this law plays in protecting our climate and reducing CO2.
The Whistleblower Protection Act, HinSchG for short, was developed as an EU Directive to protect whistleblowers, i.e. people who draw attention to wrongdoing in companies or organisations. At first glance, this seems to have little to do with climate protection. But as is so often the case, the proverbial devil is in the detail.
The HinSchG encourages and protects those who report violations of laws and regulations in connection with their professional activities. This also includes laws and regulations on environmental and climate protection, insofar as these are laid down as objectives by the companies or organisations themselves or are prescribed by legal acts, i.e. laws, of the Federal Republic or the EU. The law itself refers to legal acts. By encouraging the reporting of violations, the law helps to strengthen the enforcement of climate protection measures and to ensure that companies do their part to combat climate change.
One of the key roles of the HinSchG is to promote transparency and improve compliance. By creating a safe, labour-law protected framework for whistleblowers, it encourages companies to comply with environmental and climate protection regulations. After all, when it becomes easier to report violations, it becomes harder to hide them. And once these abuses are known to authorities or the wider public, companies may also face penalties or customers may avoid their products because they might think they are climate killers.
Another important function of the HinSchG is to combat corruption and unlawful conduct. By making it easier to detect wrongdoing and corruption, the law can help prevent practices that harm the climate. It can act like a spotlight shining on the dark corners of the corporate world, calling for accountability where it is needed. And if companies do not take action themselves, whistleblowers also always have the option of reporting grievances to the public authorities via so-called external reporting bodies of the federal and state governments.
Perhaps the strongest role of the HinSchG is in strengthening corporate responsibility. By promoting whistleblowing, the Act encourages companies to take their environmental and climate impacts seriously. It promotes proactive climate action to avoid negative publicity and legal consequences. To this end, companies must set up so-called Internal Reporting Centres, which follow up on tips, document them and systematically investigate them. Climate protection thus becomes an end in itself for companies regulated under the Whistleblower Protection Act, because they prefer to actively avert the threat of consequential damage instead of having to suffer it. Even more, companies can use the topic profitably for themselves.
It is important to emphasise that the HinSchG is not the only tool in the fight against climate change. Rather, it is one piece of a larger puzzle that works together with other measures and laws to combat climate change. But it is a significant piece of that puzzle and deserves recognition as such, even if it may never have been intended as such.
The HinSchG is a good example of how even technical and, at first sight, dry laws can have a major impact on climate protection. It may not be a flash in the dark, but it is a reliable sentinel, a superhero working unobtrusively in the background to protect our planet.
Next time you think about climate change and global warming and how to prevent these effects, also think about the Whistleblower Protection Act and in-house whistleblowers. It may not be the most glamorous or flashy tool in the fight against climate change, but it is a powerful and reliable ally. Because sometimes the most effective heroes are the ones we don't see.