February 05, 2009

Bertelsmann AG Debuts Global Ombuds Program

On October 24, 2008, the transnational media corporation published its Code of Conduct as a binding guideline for legal and ethically responsible conduct. As part of its effort to build corporate responsibility, Bertelsmann has appointed external Ombuds to respond to employees with concerns about observed misconduct. According to the Code of Conduct:
Like certified lawyers or auditors, the ombudspersons appointed by Bertelsmann are bound to professional secrecy. They are legally required to keep the identity of the person reporting misconduct confidential. The identity of a complainant may be revealed only with the complainant’s express consent.

Peter Blobel, a CPA and former auditor, and Dr. Rainer Buchert, a lawyer and former detective, serve as the Ombuds for Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. The Ombuds for North and South America is Dina Jansenson, an experienced mediator. Back-up Ombuds for the Americas are Dean Nicyper and Cynthia Watkins, both of whom are attorneys and mediators. Bertlesmann has established toll-free numbers for its Ombuds in 50 countries. (Bertlesmann Ombuds; Bertelsmann Code of Conduct.)

Many Ombuds will be intrigued by Bertelsmann's assertion that Ombuds are “legally required” to protect confidentiality, especially in many countries with different legal systems. Hopefully the basis of this position will become clear and Bertelsmann will be an important ally in securing additional legal protections for Ombuds.


  1. John Zinsser2/06/2009 7:17 AM

    There are several interesting and potentially concerning aspects to the design and execution of this program. Among these - Bertelsmann decided that all Ombuds people MUST be attorneys and while several of them have ADR/Mediation experience, it is all in a more dispute/legal modality; None has previous OO experience or training yet. Also they are not being paid salary, but rather as attorneys with a retainer plus time contract. From interviews I was able to conduct it is unclear that program marketing time will be compensated to the OOs or that they will do it at all. Additionally for North and South America the OOs will NOT be located at an Bertelsman facilities ever, and may or may not travel for case work.

    While deserving of further inquiry etc., this program looks more like a rigorous hotline system than a program that would be to IOA or ABA code. It is clear thought Bertlesmann sought and received some input from people with experience and expertise in the IOA model.

    John Zinsser

    Things worth watching.

  2. According to her website, Dina Jansenson has completed IOA training. http://hstrial-djansenson.homestead.com/ombudsperson.html