30 October 2018

Giebels report on social safety within Defence: ‘in-depth analysis’

Kees van den Bos
Prof. Kees van den Bos

On 15 October, State Secretary Visser received the long-awaited report from the Giebels Committee. This ‘investigation into a socially safe working environment at the Ministry of Defence’ led to a deluge of publications. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence will discuss the report next Wednesday. Co-author and committee member Prof. Kees van den Bos will attend as well.

The Giebels Committee was established on 7 December 2017 in response to reports of serious misconduct in the barracks at Schaarsbergen. Committee members Ellen Giebels, Frans van Oostrum and Kees van den Bos investigated aspects including the willingness to report undesired behaviour, the reporting system and the follow-up support provided to whistle-blowers.

I think the recommendations will enable Defence to take important steps.
Kees van den Bos
Professor Social Psychology and Empirical Legal Science

Effective cooperation

For Kees van den Bos, the committee offered a chance to put his expertise in the field of social psychology and empirical law to use in analysing a large organisation such as the Ministry of Defence. ‘The cooperation between myself, Ellen Giebels and Frans van Oostrum went extremely smoothly. We were able, in a relatively short period of time, to examine the Schaarsbergen case, study new reports and dossiers and speak to a large number of people. This has yielded a comprehensive organisational diagnosis regarding social unsafety within Defence. I think the recommendations will enable Defence to take important steps.’

Low willingness to report

One of the findings in the report is that the willingness to report among Defence employees who encounter undesirable behaviour is low. There is insufficient confidence that filing a report will do any good. It was also revealed that, for some of the 92 current and former employees who spoke with the committee, filing a report had negative consequences for the whistle-blower. In her response, State Secretary Visser called this ‘simply unacceptable’.

 

The willingness to report among Defence employees who encounter undesirable behaviour is low

‘Detailed and in-depth’

The Dutch media spoke of a ‘discomfiting report’ (Telegraaf) and ‘firm conclusions’ (NRC). According to NRC, the committee has ‘exposed, in detailed and in-depth fashion, how entrenched mechanisms serve to undermine social safety in the armed forces’.

Newspaper De Volkskrant said that enacting the necessary change will require great endurance on the State Secretary’s part. The networks RTL and NOS devoted coverage to the State Secretary’s announcement that she will establish an independent hotline for reporting misconduct, as recommended by the committee. The 15 existing hotlines, meanwhile, will be consolidated within the Central Organisation for Defence Integrity (COID), under the direct supervision of the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Defence.

Cherry-picking

The initial reaction of the State Secretary has met with some criticism as well. According to Follow the Money, Defence has ‘cherry-picked among the conclusions and recommendations’, and the findings are being interpreted in such a way ‘that they suit the [Ministry’s] own agenda’.

Proper care

Kees van den Bos indicates it is crucial that the State Secretary take the time to exercise proper care in determining how best to implement the recommendations. ‘We are dealing with an important social issue here. The State Secretary has announced her intention to present a detailed policy response in December. We on the committee would naturally be more than happy to provide further clarification regarding our recommendations in the interim.’