Whistleblowing on Food Crime

Since 2013, the horsemeat scandal has been the most high profile food fraud issue to date and as a result of the mistrust against the industry by consumers, the Elliot Review recommended that all food businesses take a zero-tolerance approach to food crime and support the incorporation of whistleblowing procedures. This highly regarded report tackles the current weaknesses of the industry’s food supply chain and proposes measures that could be put into practice to rectify them.

Although employees are now better protected, many are still unaware of their legal rights. If faced with wrongdoing within the workplace, workers may be reluctant to highlight the issue to a senior member of staff, for fear of facing unfair repercussions.

There are, however, laws in place to protect those who need to ‘blow the whistle’ on an establishment, if the wrongdoing fits the following criteria:

  •  Criminal offences: in relation to food crime, stretching from food fraud to financial fraud.
    For more clarity surrounding what food fraud involves, visit High Speed Training’s Food Fraud hub.
  •  When organisations break the law: for example, the resale of a product that’s previously been recalled.
  • When you suspect someone is covering up law breaking: potentially involving destroying documents relevant to a lawsuit.
  •  Danger to one or more person’s health and safety: whether it’s the general public or a fellow employee who’s being affected.
  • Environmental damage: including the irresponsible dumping of waste. Miscarriage of justice: the conviction of an innocent person, perhaps being used as a scapegoat.
  • Deemed non-trivial: the situation must not involve any personal grievances.

The protection laws in place cover all workers, from full-time employees to those on zero-hour contracts and from agency workers to trainees. Essentially, anyone with a verbal or written arrangement to carry out any work or subcontract activity for a reward, whether it’s money, gifts or the promise of future work, is protected by law if they are required to whistle blow about a past, current or future incident. It is also worth noting for employees that ‘confidentiality’ or ‘gagging’ clauses are in no way valid when it comes to the requirement to whistle blow.

To follow the correct procedures, all viable concerns should be brought up in line with your organisation’s existing whistleblowing policy. However, when in doubt, complaints should either go directly to your employer, to another prescribed person or body (for example, The National Food Crime Unit) or alternatively, to a lawyer who can provide legal advice that’s specifically tailored to the situation.

When reporting on the incident, it is also imperative to submit the complaint in writing. This ensures that there is hard evidence that you have raised your concerns and also it can be used in your favour if unfair action is taken against you by your organisation.

Whistleblowing complaints can also be made anonymously, although failure to provide all the necessary information may result in the complaint not being progressed further. For those seeking to withhold their identity, Food Crime Confidential can be used to report incidents safely and in the strictest confidence, either over the phone or online.

Finally, once your complaint has been raised, all information relevant to the situation at hand will be gathered and questioned, after which you will have no further participation in how the concern is investigated. Whilst there is no legal obligation for staff to report crimes, those in the industry should always feel a sense of moral duty to take a stand against crime and protect the public from food malpractice.

Those within the industry should equip themselves with thorough knowledge on food fraud by completing the relevant training courses, as having advanced know-how on the subject, including the complaint raising procedure, should provide employees with the confidence to speak up when malpractice is taking place.

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