Today the food and drink sector is one of the largest and most important areas of economic productivity in almost every country in the world. With expanding consumer demand, businesses can naturally be exposed to unsafe and illegal practices within their organisation.
Such practices have seen an increase in food recalls triggered by greater consumer awareness and increased regulation about the safety of foods. This has resulted in many businesses introducing measures to protect their businesses and enhance their food safety programmes.
To combat unethical practice, many businesses have instructed their suppliers to provide them with assurances by obtaining a standard in global food safety such as the BRC global standard. The BRC Global Standard for safety is a certification standard for compliance to industry best practices.
As recently documented in version 8 of the BRC Global Standards, an essential component in these standards is the assurance that businesses introduce three key processes including a confidential reporting system to enable staff to report concerns relating to safety, integrity, quality and legality. In addition, the whistleblowing mechanism for reporting concerns must be clearly notified to staff to ensure they understand the confidential reporting process. Finally, companies senior management shall have a process in place for assessing concerns, recording assessments, and where possible details of actions taken.
A robust whistleblowing solution is one of the most effective means to deter wrongdoing in an organisation. These standards provide a much-needed steer for Directors and Senior Management to move food safety and the fight against unethical practices up their corporate agenda.
It is vital to the success of any whistleblowing programme that staff are aware of their protections under relevant legislation and feel comfortable to speak up.
In the UK, The Public Interest Disclosure Act protects whistleblowers from detrimental treatment if they expose wrongdoing. The UK Food Standards Agency applies the same level of protection to personnel who disclose a qualifying disclosure such as a criminal offence, a breach of a legal obligation or a danger to the health and safety of any individual.
The AAB team has experienced a significant increase in implementing confidential reporting systems which is now a requirement for all BRC accredited sites, and our experienced team note a number of steps required to ensure a whistleblowing system is effective in the workplace. These include the importance of making it clear to staff who come forward that they will be supported and be protected from reprisals. It is also important that businesses provide employees with a mechanism to raise a concern in confidence in case they do not want their identity to be disclosed without their prior consent. Additionally, businesses need to ensure whistleblowers receive adequate feedback and support when they raise a concern. As well as this, all staff should be provided with training on the importance of whistleblowing and their protections under the legislation.
By Derek Mair, Head of Food & Drink at Anderson Anderson & Brown LLP
To find out more about Derek and the Food & Drink team at AAB, click here.
To find out more about our Whistleblowing services, click here.