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Abu Dhabi Global Market – new guiding principles on whistleblowing published

  • UAE
  • Employment law


Be aware

The Abu Dhabi Global Market (“ADGM”) published its Guiding Principles on Whistleblowing on 6 December 2022 (“Guiding Principles”). The Guiding Principles are intended to provide a benchmark or framework for all ADGM entities to work within, and all such entities are encouraged to review and align their own whistleblowing procedures with the Guiding Principles.   

Whistleblowing is a colloquial term given to the act of speaking-out and disclosing serious wrongdoing by one’s employer, an issue that has attracted a lot of high-profile media attention in recent years.

The publication of the Guiding Principles to support and guide all ADGM entities is in line with the ADGM’s commitment to grow an international financial centre where market participants operate in line with the highest global standards of business practice. In line with this commitment, the CEO of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (“FSRA”) confirmed that the purpose of the Guiding Principles is to help ADGM entities to build and maintain their own whistleblowing frameworks.

Be ready – understanding the detail

The Guiding Principles are intended to complement the existing regulatory framework within the ADGM and reflect the ADGM’s emphasis on transparency, accountability and market integrity within the centre.  Entities in the ADGM should consider the following Guiding Principles when introducing, reviewing or updating their own whistle-blowing policies:

  • A guiding definition of whistleblowing: encouraging a broad definition of whistleblowing to be used
  • Non-Retaliation ensuring that whistle-blowers are given adequate opportunities to speak up, and are fairly treated when they do so
  • Confidentiality and due process: restricting access to whistleblowing reports and following due process in managing them
  • Reporting in good faith: focusing the protections of any whistleblowing framework to honestly held beliefs reported in good faith
  • Components of a whistleblowing framework: including appropriate resources to support it, which will vary depending on the nature of the relevant entity’s business
  • Culture: supporting a whistleblowing program with an organisational culture of trust and transparency

The regional view

The publication of the Guiding Principles in the ADGM chime with steps taken to embrace international best practice in good corporate governance and transparency within the UAE.  In 2021 the UAE Central Bank introduced a whistleblowing portal to enable employees or stakeholders to report concerns of misconduct on the part of any of their staff (employees or contractors).  Earlier this year, the Dubai Financial Services Authority (“DFSA”) also published its whistleblowing regime to be followed within the Dubai International Financial Centre.

The global view – some thoughts

Culture and governance remain a key priority for the financial services sector and its’ regulators  around the globe. Effective whistleblowing arrangements that encourage employees to speak up and ensure that their concerns are handled appropriately are vital for a firm to demonstrate that it has a healthy, transparent culture.  Just over 50% of the foreign jurisdictions within which Eversheds Sutherland operates, reveal some degree of express legislation in this area.

A recent survey of our clients with a global presence revealed:

  • 1/3 opt to supplement a whistleblowing policy with more proactive steps, such as employee training;
  • less than 10% have a nominated officer, specifically to deal with allegations;
  • 1/4 provide access to external reporting mechanisms

Be prepared – supporting your business in the ADGM

Employers failing to provide easy access to confidential reporting mechanisms, or handling disclosures and disclosers inappropriately, risk problems escalating, reputational damage and, increasingly, the potential of scrutiny and or penalties from the FSRA in the ADGM.  The publication of the Guiding Principles will make it more important than ever for entities in the ADGM to have set up effective, well-organised and trusted whistleblowing policies.