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The women who knew too much: the price to pay for whistleblowers


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The women who knew too much: the price to pay for whistleblowers

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“The woman who really knew too much” is how Stephanie Gibaud has described herself.

It’s also the title of a book published last year by the former marketing manager of Swiss bank UBS.

A book that’s led to her being summoned to court to answer libel claims brought by its French subsidiary. It’s the third time in six years, that she’s facing her former employer in the French courts.

UBS filed a complaint against me in 2010 for libel; for daring to ask questions about illegal canvassing and tax evasion. I had to go on trial in 2010, and of course I was discharged. And then it was I who brought UBS before a tribunal for harassment, where I also won. And in both cases, there was no appeal,” Gibaud told euronews.

Charged with money laundering and tax fraud, the Swiss bank has had to pay bail of more than one billion euros. According to the ongoing investigation, UBS has concealed more than 12 billion euros from French tax authorities via offshore accounts and yet it continues to hound its former employee.

“That’s what I call ‘organised mobbing, gang stalking.’ It’s meant to make you crack. That’s what they expect. Because you’re just a crumb in front of this super-powerful multinational firm. And it shows the impunity of those companies whose only rule is money,” added Gibaut.

It all began in 2008 with a probe at the UBS France premises; her boss asked her to destroy her computer files containing the names of clients and account managers.

She refused, and then discovered that her bank used Swiss account managers to unlawfully canvas French customers and held so-called “milk books” – parallel accounting covering tax evasion transactions.

“I threw myself into the lion’s den. I went to see the legal affairs manager, the general manager, the president, the head of human resources. In fact, from the moment I refused the orders, everything was organised to go against me.”

Harassed then cast aside she was finally sacked in 2012. The 30,000 euros she was awarded after her harassment claim against UBS, only covered her legal fees.
Gibaud now lives on minimum social benefits, with the youngest of her two children.

Unable to pay the rent, they may soon have to leave their Paris apartment as finding a new job has since proved impossible: “Everyone turns their back on you. I’ve sent out more than a thousand CVs but the only answers I have had is “Lady, you’re scary.” Everything is swept away; your career, your health, your money, your family… Why do you have to suffer so much and be so isolated when you tell the truth and you are fighting for the common good?”

Compassion in care

The common good is also the reason Eileen Chubb has been fighting for 15 years in the UK, one of the few European countries to have a specific law to protect whistle-blowers.

A law which Chubb and thousands of British whistle-blowers deem too lax against abusers. She also lost everything after exposing, with six of her colleagues, the atrocities she witnessed when she was employed in a care home run by BUPA, a multinational in the healthcare sector.

“We’ve seen people left lying in their own waste, day after day, up to 18 hours, until their skin was gone. Pressure sores to the bone. People left without food and drink, deliberately. And deliberately left without pain killers,” Chubb told euronews. “We also saw people drugged on anti-psychotic drugs that weren’t even prescribed. They were drugs that were stockpiled from dead people, that weren’t returned. We saw people spat at, kicked, screamed at. Their money was stolen, their jewellery was stolen. In every way that you could hurt a human being, I saw that happening.”

There were some arrests, but her former employer was not convicted. After going public with the allegations more than 15 years ago, Eileen and her colleagues were harassed and fired; she never found work again.

Though investigators upheld all accusations, it was not mentioned in the employment tribunal’s verdict. Eileen Chubb refused the financial arrangement that was offered and now lives on a few hundred pounds a month, her small wage as the head of Compassion in Care, the charity she founded to help whistle-blowers, and denounce abuses in the healthcare sector.

She, and many more, are campaigning for a new law which can really punish abusive employers and more effectively protect people who reveal illegal practices.
It is estimated that over 75% of European workers facing abuse never speak out..

“It’s not just about whistleblowings, it’s about the victims of silence and the people that suffer and die, because whistleblowers were ignored. Silence is the enemy that we fight. And if we can protect whistleblowers with a proper law, and remember those who pay the price for silence, are the victims of silence, we can change it, we can change it all,” said Chubb.

Fighting against a giant – Motarjemi vs Nestlé

Sentiments shared in Switzerland where Yasmine Motarjemi has embarked on a titanic battle. She’s suing Nestlé, the food industry giant, for harassment.

Head-hunted from the World Health Organization in 2000, she was the firm’s food safety manager for a decade and addressed its shortcomings in food safety procedures.

Lack of hygiene in factories, wrong dosages in some infant formulas, contamination of raw materials, inadequate product labeling; examples, she says, were numerous and the company was often slow to respond.

“In denouncing these facts, I made enemies, and one of these people became my boss. And he began to harass me. It (mobbing) not only creates a sense of guilt in you, but you wonder what is happening, why from one day to the next you are no longer appreciated … from one day to the next! And at the same time it makes you invisible, you do not exist anymore. And this feeling is so painful …that you no longer want to live,” explained Motarjemi.

Gradually isolated, deprived of her team, discredited, and withdrawn from the organisation chart, Yasmine Motarjemi lived a nightmare for four years before being sacked. And then suffered from severe depression.

But she continues to fight. More than the compensation she claims from Nestlé, she wants explanations, and for those she holds accountable to be punished.
Nothing would have made her give up on the trial which opened last December.

“There are many people who make agreements with their company, and then they turn the page and resume their lives. I do not blame them, because sometimes they do not have the means. They are forced to find a deal because they do not have the resources, skills, or evidence, because you need to have evidence. I had the will, and the evidence. And as I have the will, the evidence and the skills, not to go to court…. would be a crime,” said Motarjemi.

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