Getting Your Facts Straight: Lessons From the Renault Investigation

The French automaker has been part of a humiliating and public investigation that has resulted in the company issuing an apology to three employees it fired – and had no evidence against.

Posted by Joe Gerard in Ethics & Compliance, Hotlines, Whistleblower on March 15th, 2011

The news has been filled recently with stories about company’s admitting that they should have taken whistleblower complaints and tips seriously. At Renault SA, they took whistleblower tips seriously, but jumped to conclusions too quickly during the investigation. The French automaker has been part of a humiliating and public investigation that has resulted in the company issuing an apology to three employees it fired – and had no evidence against.

The Espionage Investigation

In August 2010, some of the executives at Renault received anonymous tips about an executive engaging in bribery. An internal investigation followed, which resulted in three executives being fired from the company. They company claimed the three were fired for leaking company information – although there was no evidence against them.

The Wall Street Journal article “Firms Revisit Whistleblowing,” discusses the recent events at Renault:

“Over the past two months, however, Renault has uncovered no evidence against the trio. Earlier this month, the company’s chief operating officer, Patrick Pélata, said the company may have been “tricked” into bringing the allegations. On Friday, French police took in for questioning two employees from Renault’s security department who were overseeing the auto maker’s internal corporate-espionage probe, people familiar with the matter said. Renault is now preparing to exonerate the three managers for lack of evidence.”

FREE Investigation Report Template

Prepare thorough, consistent investigation reports with our free report template.

Download Template

Lessons Learned

The Renault case demonstrated a lot of flaws throughout the internal investigation. Here are just a few of the many lessons learned from this case:

1. Take anonymous tips seriously

Renault got this part right, but perhaps should have paid the same attention to fact gathering during the internal investigation. Every allegation should be treated the same way whether it’s made formally or informally, anonymously or non-anonymously. The University of Hampshire conducted a study called “Effects of Anonymous Whistle-Blowing and Perceived Reputation Threats on Investigations of Whistle-Blowing Allegations by Audit Committee Members.” The overall conclusion of the study is that anonymous whistleblower systems are ineffective, as many of the tips received anonymously are ignored and considered “less credible” than those reported through non-anonymous means.

Companies need to realize that employees make anonymous allegations because they likely fear retaliation and job loss. Often times, the person making the allegation works closely with the person committing the misconduct, making it easy for the subject of the investigation to guess where the allegation came from.

2. Conduct fair investigations

Investigations need to be conducted fairly. Sometimes it’s necessary to hire external investigators to ensure a fair investigation is conducted. The people you put in charge of an investigation should have no vested interest in the outcome and no ties to the people or the situation. You need to act quickly when tips are received, but you also have to remember that you can’t compromise the accuracy of the investigation either. You’re not going to be better off by racing through an investigation only to come to the wrong conclusion.

3. Get your facts straight

When someone has already jumped to conclusions before finding out the facts, it can damage the outcome of an internal investigation. Conclusions need to be based on real facts collected throughout the investigation process. Make sure you exhaust all of your resources and leave no stone unturned when gathering facts and evidence. As mentioned above, it’s been decided that there’s not enough evidence to support that the three employees were in fact guilty of leaking any company information. This information would have been useful before the company fired them. A lot of reputations were damaged because of this “sub par” investigation. At first, this made the three managers look bad because they were let go and accused of leaking information, but in the end, it ultimately makes the company look bad because it failed to conduct a fair investigation and find evidence against the three employees.

Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

Visit Website