It’s easy to do the right thing when facing the prospect of praise or reward. It takes much more courage to follow one’s conscience in the face of social opprobrium and retribution from those whose wrongdoings are brought to light. This was the kind of courage shown by Stephanie Gibaud, the former marketing director of UBS France. In 2008, she stood up to her employers at UBS by refusing to destroy documents revealing evidence of tax evasion on the part of the company. She would go on to file a complaint against her employer in the following year, an act for which she was harassed by the company and eventually fired.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of Stephanie Gibaud, it was eventually revealed during the course of the Panama Papers scandal that UBS France had concealed 12 billion euros from the government to avoid paying taxes. The French government has since recovered the hidden funds from the Swiss banks used by UBS in their tax evasion scheme. However, while her country has profited from her courage and integrity, Stephanie Gibaud herself has suffered harassment, social stigma, and faced eviction from her home. She also risks financial insecurity, as few companies are willing to hire a whistle-blower. Though there is currently anti-corruption legislation in progress in the French government that will include protection for whistle-blowers, these future measures will do little to help Gibaud in the present.
In honor of her selfless act of service to her country, some groups have begun calling upon French President Francois Hollande to award Stephanie Gibaud with the Legion of Honor. This unambiguous demonstration of respect and honor from the French government would not wholly reverse the damage done by UBS to Gibaud’s career and livelihood, but it would provide a tangible gesture of support that could rally others to her aid.
Recently the integrity of the Legion of Honor has been called into question in some quarters, in light of the honor being bestowed on certain foreign heads of state, including the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in a secret ceremony. This decoration drew the ire of many, and choosing to bestow the honor upon Stephanie Gibaud for her service and sacrifice for her country would do a great deal to redeem the Legion of Honor in the eyes of the public, as well as honoring one woman’s incredible act of courage.