Rewarding Whistleblowers: The Costs and Benefits of an Incentive-Based Compliance Strategy

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Corporate Governance
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Canadians today are very much concerned about corporate crime and about corporations that do not comply with regulatory requirements, especially those related to the environment, securities law and occupational health and safety regulations. This increased concern has led to proposals to extend liability for illegal corporate conduct (by making directors personally liable for the actions of their companies, for example); it has also led to arguments in favour of greatly increasing the sanctions on corporations (and individual wrongdoers within those corporations) for wrongful conduct. The recent academic literature reflects a lively debate as to the effectiveness of such proposals in reducing illegal behaviour in corporations and their consequences for the functioning of the corporation as an economic institution. With some notable exceptions, the focus of the debate on sanctions and liability rules has resulted in the relative neglect of an essential ingredient in effective deterrence; the capacity to monitor and detect wrongdoing within the corporation. The lack of attention to the potential for increased compliance through improved monitoring and detection is surprising for several reasons. First, as Jennifer Arlen notes, "[m]any corporate crimes - such as securities fraud, government procurement fraud, and some environmental crimes cannot be readily detected by government". Second, there is a significant body of literature on regulatory reform that relates the ineffectiveness of many traditional "command and control" forms of regulation to the costs and difficulties which are inherent in government monitoring and detection of wrongdoing. Third, one of the most generally held tenets of contemporary criminology is that increasing the likelihood of detection and prosecution tends to be a more effective means of strengthening deterrence than making sanctions more severe. In other words, it is better to put another cop on the beat than to build more jail cells. This study is intended to help redress the inadequate emphasis on monitoring and detection in the current debate on corporate criminal and regulatory responsibility. Accepting the proposition that direct monitoring of corporate conduct by government as a means of detection is unlikely to be cost-effective, our concern is to identify agents within the corporation who can be enlisted in the cause of monitoring and detection, and to consider how public policies can provide stronger incentives, and make it easier, for these agents to identify and disclose wrongdoing within the corporation. In conducting this analysis, we begin by considering one such policy that has generated sustained public attention and controversy over the last decade: so-called "whistleblower protection."

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Reprinted from Corporate Decision-Making in Canada, edited by Ronald J. Daniels and Randall Morck (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995), pages 525-549. Note: At the time of publication, the author Ronald Daniels was affiliated with the University of Toronto. Currently, he is Provost of the University of Pennsylvania.
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