Confidential adviser on matters of business ethics

The confidential adviser and the compliance officer

Until recently, the confidential adviser and the compliance officer in the private sector did not appear to have much in common. In many organizations these functions were active in two separate worlds, each with their own area of attention. The compliance officer, active in the area of compliance & business ethics, the confidential adviser in the area of organizational health and safety, and more specifically (prevention and mitigation of) undesirable behavior.  The confidential adviser is a typical Dutch phenomenon, introduced by our ‘ARBO’ legislation on organizational health and safety.

The Dutch Whistleblowers Authority Act of 2016 seems to have ended this clarity in separation of duties.  As a result of the introduction of this legislation, confidential advisers in the private sector and the semi-government sector are nowadays frequently being asked by their organizations to take on an additional role in the prevention and mitigation of unethical behavior. [1] The confidential adviser seems well placed to take on this extra responsibility.  Furthermore, an argument heard often is that a combination role is an efficient use of resources.

Efficient? Perhaps. But effective? Not necessarily.

Material differences

There are material differences between issues of business ethics and issues of undesirable behavior to be considered.

  • Interests at stake. Where it concerns undesirable behavior, the complainant has a personal stake in the matter, and the role of the trusted person is primarily focused on providing support to the complainant.  When concerns of business ethics are at play, the interests of the organization are primarily at stake.  The confidential adviser will need to take into account these interests involved. This is a major shift in responsibilities, representing a range of challenges and dilemmas for the confidential adviser.
  • Knowledge required. Business ethics is a knowledge-intensive field, requiring a specific skills set in the area of investigations and related whistleblower procedures.
  • Organizational structure. Business integrity requires different management attention. Policies, processes and procedures need to be in place, people need to be educated and engaged.  This framework provides the confidential adviser the necessary environment in order for him or her to play their part properly.

If these differences are not addressed sufficiently in the broadening of the scope of the confidential adviser, chances are that neither the interests of the organization, nor the interests of the individual employees are properly taken care of. But if these aspects are taken care of in a proper manner, the confidential adviser has indeed the potential to become an important player in the organizational business ethics program.

Publication Dutch Whistleblowers Authority (DWA)

Early this year, the DWA issued a publication entitled ‘Integrity in practice; the Confidential Integrity Adviser’.  This publication not only explains the roles and responsibilities of the organization as well as the confidential advisor regarding matters of business ethics, but also provides many practical tools for implementation purposes.  As a specialist with a lot of knowledge and experience in the field of compliance and integrity, I was given the responsibility to lay the foundation for this publication.

A self assessment

If you, as a director, manager, confidential adviser, Works Council member, employee or as a party involved in any other relevant role, do not feel like going through this 60+ page brochure, I have an alternative for you.  If you send me your contact details via my contact page, I will send you a short self-assessment, based on this brochure, which will give you a global overview of the situation in your organization in a fraction of the time. If the self assessment exercise learns you that there is room for improvement within your organization, you can choose to work with the tools provided in this publication, or you can contact me.  Being an experienced professional, I will be happy to help you find an effective solution tailored to the needs of your organization.


Or alternatively, join me in a training. The two-day training at Merlijn is accredited by the LVV for ‘permanent education’ purposes.  This training is conducted in Dutch.  Of course, there is also the possibility of in-company training, in Dutch or in English.  The training course reflects the content of the above mentioned publication.

I would love to hear from you!


[1]Section 2 sub e, suf section 6 sub e of the DWA . Organizations have to provide their employees an adviser for a confidential consult about a suspected ‘abuse’.  Trusted persons are furthermore mentioned as a potential point of entry for reports on unethical business conduct.