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One of the new clauses in BRC Issue 8 is to implement a confidential reporting system, or as we know it, a whistleblowing system. We’ve all heard of this, but implementing one is a different matter. So, I’m going to go through what it means and how to do it…

New clause 1.1.6

“The company shall have a confidential reporting system to enable staff to report concerns relating to product safety, integrity, quality and legality.

The mechanism (e.g. the relevant telephone number) for reporting concerns must be clearly communicated to staff.

The company’s senior management shall have a process for assessing any concerns raised. Records of the assessment and, where appropriate, actions taken, shall be documented.”

So, what does the BRC mean by a ‘confidential reporting system’?

Well, in the draft version of Issue 8, they didn’t call it that – they used the term whistleblowing system. Some people don’t like that term, which is probably why they changed it, but at least when you call it whistleblowing, we all know what that means. A ‘confidential reporting system’ is a bit more non-descript and so, may be misunderstood.

For this reason, I’m going to call it whistleblowing from now on. And, there’s a key reason for this and that is because, the government recognises it as whistleblowing. There is a law on whistleblowing in the UK, the Employment Rights Act 1996 (as amended by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998). This law defines what whistleblowing is.

What does the term whistleblowing mean?

Making a disclosure or blowing the whistle.  Basically, telling someone about a wrongdoing, which most of the time happens at work. The law states, that the person blowing the whistle, by law, must believe two things:

  1. That they are acting in the best interests of the general public.
  2. That the wrongdoing conforms to the definition, as set out by the law.

What is the definition of a wrongdoing?

A wrongdoing is something that has happened in the past, is currently happening, or they feel is likely to occur in the future, Such as:

  • A criminal offence (this may include, for example, types of financial impropriety such as fraud)
  • Failure to comply with an obligation set out in law
  • A miscarriage of justice
  • That someone’s health and safety is in danger
  • damage to the environment
  • Or, covering up wrongdoing described

The whistleblowing law protects the individual that has blown the whistle and gives them the right to take the case to tribunal if they feel they’ve been victimised at work, because of it.

The Government has provided a guidance document for businesses who wish to implement a whistleblowing system. It’s a really good document and you’ll find it really helpful when putting together your system, to meet this new clause for BRC Issue 8.

You can find the document here: Government guidance document

As always, if you have any comments about this subject, or anything relating to issue 8, please just put your comments in the reply box underneath. Remember, you don’t need to put your name if you don’t want to!

3 Comments

  • James Flynn says:

    Excellent article highlighting the need for exposing wrong doing and protecting the ‘whistleblower’. I also agree, the term whistle blower is better but can kind of understand why business owners and retailers may not like the term. You can’t please everyone. It is indicative of a culture of ‘burying bad news’ however.

    Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how food businesses implement this and something we at Primority can easily implement.

    Keep up the good work Kassy and the TechniK team, these insights are always extremely useful

  • R. says:

    Hello,

    Good article but, I’m missing a bit the essence related to the subject of this clause (concerns about food safety, integrity, quality and legality). The documentation referred to in this article is more a general way to develop a whistle blowing system but, I think the essence from BRC is specific to food safety, so, some definition of ‘wrong doing’ related to food safety, integrity, quality and legality could be a good addition to this article.

    Examples of which I think of is deliberate contamination of ingredients or raw materials (both chemical, physical and biological), cases where employees despite training do not follow hygiene rules, relabeling of old stock with new expiration dates, market finished products where microbiological limits have been crossed, covering up listeria problems etc.

    Also, the word ‘independent’ plays a crucial role in whistle blowing. Confidential is one but, independent is another. How does a company make sure that a concern is treated ‘independently’? There are numerous cases in the history of food fraud where deliberate attempts were done in the favor of senior management. The only option then, for a whistle blower would be stepping towards regulatory authorities.

    • Kassy Marsh says:

      Hi,
      Thanks for your comment!
      I agree with you that it should focus heavily on food safety, integrity, quality and legality. Whistleblowing can be more than just food related though. It could be financial, unethical staffing or working conditions, environmental, health and safety, or non-compliance to laws such as the competition law, etc.
      The law does protect the employee so that if they feel that their case hasn’t been handled correctly (if it’s been handled internally) they can go to the authorities. Although, I imagine if you were in that position, that would be quite a brave step to take…
      Thanks
      Kassy

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