However, while Birkenfeld is counting his millions, sometimes going public can have a different outcome. Former Enron vice president Sherron Watkins was sacked from the company for raising issues around fraud. She turned whistleblower, but never worked in the sector again and now gives talks on corporate governance, having written books on her experience with Enron.
Another famous whistleblower, Karen Silkwood, was immortalized by Meryl Streep in the 1983 film Silkwood. She died in mysterious circumstances after she turned whistleblower on the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant where she worked. She suffered radiation poisoning, leading to her investigating wrongdoing at the company, but on her way to meet a journalist, she died in an unexplained car crash.
Rita Pal, a British whistleblower in the tax-funded National Health Service, who exposed patient neglect in a North Staffordshire hospital, said: “The main consequence of whistleblowing is that the pariah effect makes you essentially unemployable due to the perceptions people have. I do have regrets on occasion when I look at the personal consequences. I am a human being after all and the devastation to my life has been incredible.”
However, Woodford believes the situation is changing.
“Since I became a whistleblower, I’ve been offered the presidency of a Japanese firm and chairmanship of a British company, so I hope that encourages others to speak out. As the world sees scandal after scandal, people shouldn’t fear standing up,” he said.
Moore agreed: “Whistleblowers are raising issues because they care about their company deeply and this is misunderstood as disloyal subversion.”