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Whistleblower Examples: Jeffrey Wigand and Unethical Products

by Camilla Petersen

Whistleblowing

The EU Whistleblower Directive hopes to usher in an era of protection for people calling out injustices in the workplace. We know that these malpractices can take on different forms - from “fudging the numbers” to misrepresenting products. 

There are many people who are willing to put their own gain over the well-being of others in pursuit of an increased bottom line. Jeffrey Wigand, however, is not one of them.

The Story of Jeffrey Wigand

 

Jeffrey Wigand cut his teeth at a number of healthcare companies. Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Union Carbide and Technicon Instruments are all on the list of places where Dr. Wigand worked. It’s safe to say that he was more than competent in the field of biochemistry. However, he was just as comfortable in the boardroom.

Wigand began his career at Brown & Williamson in 1989 but was fired in 1993 for whistleblowing when he spoke out against the company’s executives. He claimed that they had approved addictive and carcinogenic additives for their tobacco products. 

Not only were they approving the use of these chemicals (such as ammonia and coumarin) but they were also trying to hide this fact.

Back then, the knowledge of the addictiveness and long-term damage that tobacco could cause were not well known. This information posed a massive threat to the tobacco company were it to get out because they were already in the middle of a legal battle.

The Attorney General of Mississippi at the time, Michael Moore, filed a lawsuit against America’s big tobacco companies. Seven states were trying to claim reimbursement for Medicaid expenses for patients with illnesses caused by smoking. 

Jeffrey Wigand tendered his involvement by giving a lengthy deposition in the states’ favour. However, his whistleblowing took a toll on his family and his reputation. 

As a whistleblower at this point in time, Jeffrey received several death threats aimed at him and his family. As a result, his wife kicked him out of their home because she felt that he posed a threat to their safety. 

Brown & Williamson also orchestrated a smear campaign seeking to discredit Wigand in any way possible. This included a 500-page report aimed at doing so.

 

Why It Is Important To Report Unethical Product Practices

 

It is vital to call out unethical product practices because they are detrimental to many people. 

At the time, over 400,000 Americans died of smoking-related illnesses each year. If companies like B&W had been allowed to add in addictive and harmful chemicals, who knows how much that number could have increased.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Whistleblowers, like Jeffrey Wigand, have made personal sacrifices for us to benefit from the protection now offered to those who blow the whistle.

The Directive makes sure that organisations will protect whistleblowers rather than persecute them. Having proper whistleblowing channels makes it safe for people to report unethical practices and put an end to them.

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Whistleblowing

Camilla Petersen

Country Manager, Denmark