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Key features of an ethics hotline

The King IV Code on Corporate Governance strongly recommends organisations to have a whistleblowing mechanism in place to establish an ethical corporate culture. A whistleblowing mechanism can be in the form of an internal ethics hotline or an external whistleblowing facility.

Anonymous reporting lines were first established to receive reports of fraud and theft and were often referred to as fraud lines. Today an organisation’s ethics hotline is a one-stop service for the receipt of employee and stakeholder concerns, and information or complaints regarding unethical conduct such as: bribery, corruption, nepotism, policy violations, harassment, unfair discrimination or unethical practice.

The objective of this blog is to provide you with the necessary tools to benchmark your current ethics hotline system, be it in-sourced or outsourced, against prevailing best practices in the form of the key features that an ethics hotline should have.

The following high-level features are required of an ethics hotline:

Accessibility – A 24/7/365 service ensures that Whistleblowers can report a matter when it suits them
– Multiple reporting channels to cater for any individual’s preferred channel of communication
– Multi-lingual capability allows Whistleblowers to make reports in their own language.
Anonymity & Confidentiality – Reporting channels must not capture caller IDs or IP addresses, ensuring that Whistleblowers can report information with confidence that their anonymity will not be compromised
– Restricted access to the call centre ensures that information is kept confidential
– Providing each whistleblower with a reference number enables them to follow-up on their reports without compromising their anonymity.
Competence – Agents need to have rapport building and interview skills to put whistleblowers at ease and help them through effective information-gathering skills
– Skilled agents can detect hoax callers and deter them from making false reports.
Integrity – Agents need to be trustworthy and free of conflicts of interest.
Reporting – Reports should be anonymised and any information that could reveal the likely identity of the whistleblower must be removed from reports while maintaining the substance of the report
– Reports must be quality assured for anonymity, accuracy and completeness.
Dissemination – Timely issue of reports: all reports should be made available within 24 hours, but incidents in progress should be reported telephonically to emergency contacts immediately
– Reports should be sent only to authorised recipients.
Data Protection – Strict, continually monitored and recorded access control ensures data protection
– Secure backup and storage of information: disaster recovery systems must be in place and access to stored data carefully controlled.
Privacy Regulations – Processing of personal data must comply with the applicable data privacy regulations and best practices (POPI, GDPR).

For more information on the above, see the SABPP’s Ethics Management Fact Sheet.

Other important factors to consider when benchmark your current ethics hotline system to best practices are:

  1. Promoting Ethics Hotline Awareness and Confidence
  2. Report Management
  3. Hotline Incident Metrics and Reporting
  4. Certification of a Credible Standard *

* Given the critical role that an ethics hotline can and must play in the maintenance of an ethical culture and in the management of ethics risks, it is more important than ever that ethics hotline systems are operated in a manner that is consistent with a credible standard.

Whether your organisation has an internal ethics hotline system or an external whistleblowing facility, it is of vital importance to ensure that your ethics hotline includes the key high-level features listed above.

To assist organisations in combating fraud and corruption, Advance Call has established the Ethics & Fraud Hotline, complete with all best practice key features mentioned above.  The Advance Call Ethics & Fraud Hotline is certified by The Ethics Institute as a Safeline-Ex service provider in accordance with the Safe Reporting Service Provider Standard and as part of the service, clients are provided with awareness material and training.


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