Foundations for a whistleblower protection system in France

The whistleblower protection system has a long history in European legal systems. France is known for its long tradition of rigorous jurisprudence dating back to the Napoleonic era. The civil law system is based on comprehensive civil codes and laws, boasting a mastery of legal doctrine and practice. This strong foundation in applying the law provides France with a robust basis as it implements the EU Whistleblower Directive into its meticulous legal framework.

The whistleblower protection system - current day

In France, legal protection for lanceurs d'alerte (whistleblowers) has been strengthened over the past decade. The legislation was most recently updated in 2022 to align with the EU whistleblower directive. The country’s first standalone whistleblower law was passed in 2013, followed by enhancements under the 2016 Sapin II law.[1] This established protections from retaliation, reporting channels, and exemptions from liability for good faith disclosures.

A new law enacted in February 2022 transposed the EU Directive into French legislation and came into force in September 2022. The legislation brings substantial enhancements to whistleblower protection system, as it encompasses a wider scope of whistleblowers and covered disclosures, permitting direct external reporting without prior internal reporting, and bolstering safeguards against retaliation and gag orders. Companies with over 50 employees are mandated to establish internal reporting procedures. Externally, disclosures can be made to regulatory bodies like the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF), rights defenders like the Défenseur des droits office, or NGOs like Maison des Lanceurs d’Alerte. Notably, the law exempts whistleblowers from civil and criminal liability. Even though the law addresses gaps in previous frameworks and strengthens whistleblower rights on paper, ongoing efforts are needed to focus on proper implementation and enforcement.[2]

One landmark case involved Irène Frachon, a French pulmonologist who blew the whistle on the serious side effects of the diabetes drug Mediator in 2010. Its pharmaceutical company, Servier Laboratories, was found guilty of "aggravated deception" and "manslaughter and involuntary injury". The company was fined €2.7 million and found responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people due to the use of its weight-loss pills.
Despite pressure to keep silent, her disclosures that aimed to protect public health and safety eventually led to the drug being banned. At the same time, more than one billion euros in compensation was paid to victims.[3]


The past has revealed that those who report misconduct face a high burden of proof that their disclosures serve the public interest. Whistleblowers have complained of lengthy litigation, limited compensation and retaliation sanction, and lack of anonymity guarantees when making disclosures. Supporting a system of protection for whistleblowers, an environment in which people feel safe. Such action will allow whistleblowers to better hold institutions in France accountable and maintain integrity in all sectors.

From corporate corruption that costs taxpayers billions to threats to public health and safety, whistleblowers play an indispensable role in bringing hidden wrongdoing to light. Despite the much-needed progress, cultural change is still a challenge. Whistleblowing is still seen as treasonous, even when whistleblowers serve the public interest, even at personal and professional expense. It should instead be valued as a civic act that strengthens democracy and ethics. With expanded legal protections and better support systems, France can uphold whistleblowing as vital for ensuring accountability and integrity across both public and private institutions.

[1] Sapin II Law: The new French legal framework for the fight against corruption

[2] EU Whistleblowing Directive - France

[3] French pharma firm guilty of manslaughter and deception over deadly Mediator drug