Questions & Answers about the Ombudsman’s Office, the Complaints Procedure under the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act (Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz) and the Internet-based whistleblower system at The Quality Group GmbH and its subsidiaries (“TQGG”)
What is an ombudsman / complaints office (“whistleblower system”)?
TQGG has appointed an external lawyer as ombudswoman and contact person for our whistleblower system in the course of combating violations of legal regulations and/or internal corporate compliance rules as well as violations of human rights and environmental due diligence obligations. The ombudswoman is available to all whistleblowers who wish to provide confidential information about irregularities at TQGG.
Who can contact the whistleblower system?
Our whistleblower system, which is operated by our ombudswoman, is available to anyone who can provide information about illegal conduct. This may be employees, customers or other third parties. We will accept all tips that you suspect of a violation and that fall within the specified topic area.
On which topics can hints be given?
The whistleblower system is available for information regarding violations of laws and regulations as well as human rights and environmental risks and due diligence violations, insofar as these affect our company, our business unit or our suppliers along the entire supply chain.
Notification content topics include the following in particular:
- Corruption, money laundering, bribery, terrorist financing, violations of export controls
- Anti-competitive behavior
- Violations of the Code of Conduct and other internal guidelines of TQGG (e.g. purchasing guidelines).
- Product safety
- Discrimination, bullying, fundamental rights
- Health, operational safety, occupational safety
- Personnel issues, including disregard for work instructions
- Data privacy and information security breaches
- Antitrust violations
- EU matters under the EU Whistleblower Directive, 2019/1937.
- Violations of human rights and environmental due diligence requirements.
The whistleblower system is not intended for complaints relating to operational business. Information reported via the whistleblower system that relates to matters outside the defined subject area will be forwarded to the relevant contact persons subject to the whistleblower’s consent, or the relevant contact persons will be named.
How can tips be submitted?
Our employees may contact supervisors, the Human Resources Department, the General Counsel or other offices within the company with information at any time.
Whistleblower System / Ombudsman Advocate:
In addition, our employees, our business partners and other third parties can use our whistleblower system to submit reports to our ombudswoman. You can submit your tips by phone, mail, e-mail or in a personal meeting.
Dr. Kathrin J. Niewiarra, Attorney at Law, Ombudswoman
Tel.: +49 (0) 30 / 4036750-17
In addition, it is possible to submit reports to the ombudswoman via our electronic whistleblowing system in more than 26 languages:
How is anonymity ensured and the whistleblower protected?
The protection and confidentiality of the whistleblower are essential components of our complaints procedure and are taken very seriously by us. Throughout the procedure, individual measures are developed and taken, depending on the individual case, to ensure the protection of the whistleblower from disadvantage or punishment as a result of tips given. Intimidation, threats or workplace discrimination against whistleblowers will not be tolerated. If you suffer intimidation, threats or reprisals as a result of a whistleblower, please take this up with our ombudswoman or the relevant departments at TQGG.
As a lawyer, the ombudswoman is also subject to the lawyer’s duty of confidentiality. The contacting as well as all information and hints are treated absolutely confidential. This is secured by a separate data protection agreement with TQGG as the client.
Your identity will only be disclosed to TQGG with the express consent of the whistleblower. Should your information lead to investigations by law enforcement authorities, your anonymity is guaranteed by the lawyer’s duty of confidentiality also towards these institutions.
What happens to a submitted tip?
The ombudswoman examines the incoming tips and undertakes an initial legal assessment. This is forwarded to Svenja Wachtel, General Counsel at TQGG for further examination of the facts, provided the whistleblower has consented to the forwarding. Absolute confidentiality of the information is guaranteed. If the information can be substantiated, further measures will be initiated. If the information proves to be unfounded, the investigation will be terminated. In addition, all personal data will be deleted in accordance with data protection regulations.
The individual steps:
Receipt of the notice
The receipt of the tip is documented and the whistleblower receives an acknowledgement of receipt from the ombudswoman’s office after seven days at the latest.
The ombudswoman’s counsel classifies the tip by topic and examines it for plausibility. If the tip is plausible, it is forwarded to Svenja Wachtel, General Counsel, for clarification of the facts while maintaining confidentiality.
If the whistleblower so desires, the ombudswoman will remain in contact with him or her throughout the proceedings. However, the whistleblower alone decides on the manner of contact.
If the tip is not plausible, the proceedings are discontinued and the whistleblower will be informed.
Clarification of the facts
The General Counsel clarifies the facts of the case in coordination with the ombudswoman, making full use of her available resources on a case-by-case basis, as needed and in a timely manner. The first step is to check whether sufficient information is available to clarify the facts of the case. If this is not the case, the whistleblower will be contacted by the ombudswoman to request further information.
If contact is not desired and no sufficient information can be gathered in other ways to clarify the facts, the proceedings will be discontinued. If no misconduct or risk can be identified in the company or among the business partners or suppliers, the proceedings will also be discontinued. The whistleblower will be informed accordingly.
Development of solutions
If misconduct or risk is identified, appropriate preventive and/or remedial measures will be developed based on the information gathered. If possible, reasonable and desired by the whistleblower, the whistleblower will be involved in the development of the preventive and/or remedial measures.
The whistleblower will receive feedback from the ombudswoman at the latest three months after the acknowledgement of receipt about the planned measures as well as the measures already taken and the reasons for them, provided that (internal) investigations and the rights of the persons who are the subject of a whistleblowing are not impaired thereby and this is possible within the scope of what is legally permissible.
Initiation of corrective actions and follow-up as well as effectiveness review
Adopted preventive and/or remedial actions are initiated and implementation is followed up by the General Counsel or a committee appointed for this purpose.
In addition, TQGG reviews the effectiveness of the complaints procedure annually and on an ad hoc basis. In particular, feedback from whistleblowers is used for this purpose. If necessary, adjustments are made.
Are there negative consequences if I file a report?
If you make a report to the best of your knowledge and belief, you will not suffer any disadvantages within the company. However, if you deliberately submit a false report or a report in bad faith or if you yourself have violated applicable rules of conduct, TQGG reserves the right to take legal action.
What if the content of the message subsequently turns out to be false?
It is important that at the time of the report you believed or assumed that the content was true and that you did not make the report with abusive intent. If, after clarifying the facts, it turns out that the tip was not justified, you do not have to fear any negative consequences.
What happens if you yourself are involved in the grievance?
Even then, you will be encouraged to report the facts in question. In the investigation of the facts and the possible sanctioning, this will be taken into account appropriately as far as legally possible.
Does the whistleblower incur any costs as a result of using the whistleblower system?
There are no costs for the whistleblower.
Does the tip create a client relationship with the ombudswoman?
No, there is no client-attorney relationship. The ombudswoman is and remains the agent of TQGG. However, the legal relationship between the ombudswoman and TQGG as the client has a “protective effect” in favor of the whistleblower. As a result, the ombudswoman can informally advise the whistleblower on the practical issues of the individual case, but she is not able to represent your legal interests as “your” lawyer.