Image for ‘The truth hurts: why whistleblowers get such a hard time’

First published April 15

The truth hurts. And when you blow the whistle, people get upset.

So says Martin Woods, an anti-money laundering expert and whistleblower, who says governments, companies and wider society need to rethink their attitudes towards whistleblowers in all sectors of the economy, from compliance staff in banks to nurses working in aged-care facilities.

This includes compensating them for speaking up - and paying rewards for valuable information.

“It’s human conditioning - the human race doesn’t like whistleblowers,” Woods says. “[As children], we were told, ‘don’t tell tales’, and we tell our kids, ‘don’t tell tales’. Why do we do that? We have anxiety around their social grouping, and their social acceptance, but we’re telling them not to like people who tell tales - the whistleblower.”

Woods would know. In 2006, while working in the US bank Wachovia’s anti money-laundering unit in London, he began flagging and blocking suspicious transactions that, he believed, suggested Mexican drug cartels were washing millions of dollars of dirty money through the bank, then the sixth-biggest lender in the US.

According to evidence tendered in a whistleblower lawsuit he brought against the bank, Woods quickly came under intense internal pressure to stop reporting the transactions to external authorities, as required by law, and was bullied and demoted for his actions …

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