Confidentiality versus Whistleblowing in the Public Interest—Debating the Responsibility of Professional Accountants

Confidentiality versus Whistleblowing in the Public Interest—Debating the Responsibility of Professional Accountants

by Paul Thompson, Director, SMP & SME Affairs | April 17, 2014 | 2

In May-July 2014, the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA, the Ethics Board) will be holding a series of three global roundtables to gain additional feedback on its project to address professional accountants’ responsibilities regarding the disclosure to an appropriate authority of suspected non-compliance with laws and regulations by a client or employer. The roundtables will bring together representatives from a broad range of stakeholder groups around the world, including regulators, investors, preparers, audit committee members, IFAC member bodies, firms and national standard setters, to share their perspectives on the Ethics Board’s indicative direction. As space is limited, attendance is by invitation only. If you are interested in participating, you are invited to submit your expression of interest via email to, indicating your name, job title, organization and preferred location.

  • Hong Kong S.A.R, China, on May 20, 2014;
  • Brussels, Belgium, on June 13, 2014; and
  • Washington DC, USA, on July 10, 2014.

If you are unable to attend, we encourage you to share your views below.  

Background & Developments

The Ethics Board initiated the project in response to regulatory concerns that the current confidentiality provisions in the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants (the Code) are an impediment to whistleblowing in relation to non-compliance or suspected non-compliance with laws and regulations. The issues revolve around how to balance professional accountants’ responsibility to act in the public interest against confidentiality, one of the five fundamental principles in the Code.

At its December 2013 meeting, the Board discussed its latest proposals (see agenda item 5A and meeting podcast (at 6:14) here) and plans to consult with stakeholders on the revised proposals at the roundtables before a new exposure draft is issued. The initial Exposure Draft, Responding to a Suspected Illegal Act (August 2012), described the circumstances in which a professional accountant would be required or expected to breach confidentiality and disclose the matter to an appropriate authority.

Join the Debate

The ED, Responding to a Suspected Illegal Act, attracted a lot of responses including from IFAC’s Small and Medium Practices (SMP)  and Professional Accountants in Business (PAIB) Committees.

At the heart of this debate is what is reasonable to ask of auditors and other professional accountants within their public interest mandate. What do you think?

Help IFAC improve the Global Knowledge Gateway.
Click to recommend this article.

Join the Conversation

To leave a comment below, login or register with

Kari Lydman
May 12, 2014

Auditors have to have total trust in the eyes of their nominators. Confidentiality is a major part of a mutual trust. Who nominates the auditors for an organisation? Is it eg. the owners or the "Public Interest"? Auditors do not tolerate NOCAL, and they will report on material non-compliance to the appropriate management level. If needed, they might even consider reporting in the public auditors' report, and/or to resign. If auditors report (separately) or blow the whisle to other parties than those who have nominated them, the trust is lost.

Giancarlo Attolini
May 9, 2014

I will attend the Brussels IESBA roundtable on NOCLAR and I would very much welcome any contribution and comments from the global SMP community. I look forward to a fruitful debate here on IFAC's Global Knowledge Gateway.


Get the latest updates delivered straight to your inbox

Keep Updated
Get the latest updates delivered straight to your inbox.



Suggest a Resource, News Item, Event, or Discussion Topic

Knowledge Section
Why should we include this?