"The whistle-blowing programme is working," reports AngloGold Ashanti's group internal audit manager Hester Hickey, a year after its introduction. Its establishment followed the Protected Disclosure Act of South Africa (2000), the King Report on Corporate Governance of South Africa (2002), and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, intended to tighten up corporate governance following a spate of international corporate frauds.
Shareholders, the public, employees, suppliers, contractors and any other interested parties, at any of AngloGold Ashanti's global operations, now have a conduit through which to channel reports of not just criminal acts, but also of unethical behaviour and practices, without any fear of reprisal. Because whistle-blowers world-wide tend to be victimised and ostracised, and are often under pressure to leave their place of employ, AngloGold Ashanti has now established an anonymous email system to circumvent accusations of this nature. This is in addition to the other reporting methods via telephone (through a toll-free number within South Africa), fax, intranet or letter. However, the drawbacks to anonymous reporting are that complaints cannot be verified, the investigative process takes longer and the department cannot give feedback.
90% of reports currently received are anonymous. Twenty two reports (20 from South Africa, one from Mali and one from Australia) were received between January and November 2004, of which 15 were anonymous. Ten related to fraud concerning mainly impropriety with regard to internal or external suppliers; eight to human resource issues where the complainant was unwilling to follow grievance procedures, fearing victimisation; and four to minor issues such as fraudulent leave.
One report was received from a supplier regarding anti-competitive tendering. Since the supplier had identified himself, he was given subsequent feedback and was satisfied with the outcome in that there had been a genuine error in the tender. The supplier was also satisfied that the future tenders would not prejudice any suppliers.
All whistle-blowing reports are investigated where possible and, if substantiated, are followed by a full grievance and disciplinary process, and where applicable dismissal, and criminal or civil action. To date there have been no dismissals or court cases. Most investigations are dealt with internally but external consultants may be employed, depending on the nature of the complaint and the availability of appropriate resources.
Blank emails are received, as well as a number of nuisance and malicious calls - not uncommon, says Hickey, following discussions with other companies which have a whistle-blowing process in place. However, the benefits of the reporting process, at this stage, outweigh the obstructive behaviour of some individuals. Other common areas of complaint, Hickey discovered, are around labour, race and moral issues. Although AngloGold Ashanti has received reports of unethical behaviour, there have been none yet regarding financial reporting, a key focus of Sarbanes-Oxley.
Hickey, who is an appointee of the audit and corporate governance committee, reports regularly to the chief executive officer, the executive committee and the audit and corporate governance committee on the current status of cases, and the manner in which they are being dealt with. Formal reports are also received from the human resources, internal audit and asset protection departments.
AngoGold Ashanti's whistle-blowing policy is covered comprehensively in a recent 'values and business principles' booklet, and provides contact numbers and addresses for those wishing to report criminal offences or unethical behaviour.