adolf hitler
Adolf Hitler salutes at a giant Nazi parade at Nuremberg in 1938Getty

The horrors of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime make modern Germans reluctant to emulate whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, according to a new survey.

A study from law firm Freshfields, based on responses from more than 2,500 middle and senior managers, found that German people are highly unlikely to report alleged corporate or individual misconduct, as the practice has negative connotations that are "rooted in the country's past."

"Under the Nazis or Communism in East Germany, 'whistleblowers' were seen as people who reported you to the regime," said Boris Dzida, a partner in Freshfields' Hamburg office.

"I've been at one townhall meeting where management announced that they wanted to implement a whistleblowing policy, and the chairman of the council got up and said: 'I don't want this company to introduce a Nazi system.'"

Moreover, the law firm highlighted that high-profile cases, such as Snowden or US soldier Bradley Manning, have changed the perception of whistleblowing in American firms.

"The Snowden and Manning cases mean whistleblowing is now part of the vernacular in the US," said Adam Siegel, a dispute resolution lawyer and Freshfields' US managing partner.

"Although people's opinion of what Snowden did is informed by their politics, whistleblowing comes up in conversation more than it did before. People are desensitised now to the idea that you shouldn't be a tattle-tail."

In contrast, Gwen Senlanne, one of Freshfields' EPB partners said: "There is a cultural gap in France compared to the US or the UK."

"French companies are probably less inclined to implement whistleblowing policies and the idea of reporting on someone else is not well received in France."

More than a quarter of those polled in the UK said they would report malpractice to a more senior colleague before taking it further.

"One reason why UK employees would go to a senior colleague first, before approaching the regulator, is that the protections for whistleblowers in our legislation are stronger if you've tried to address the problem through internal channels first," said Caroline Stroud, global head of the EPB at Freshfields.

"If a whistleblower doesn't go down this route, he or she risks losing the available protection against detriment or dismissal."

Overall, around 57% of staff from across the globe have revealed that they are likely to lose their job or be treated less favourably at work if they reported company misconduct as a whistleblower.

Global whistleblowing infographic
Freshfields