In this case, Volkswagen used a software system that could manipulate the actual performance of its diesel cars. In particular, the programmed software provided false data on emission levels to help the vehicles meet all the stipulated regulatory and safety requirements (Lippe, 2015). The fraudulent behavior exhibited by Volkswagen breached standard ethical practices and moral business conduct. The paper provides a comprehensive review of the situation from legal, ethical, and biblical perspectives by fully explaining the following questions.
- As an employee or a manager in either the legal office or the engineering department, how would you have prevented this incident?
The problems experienced by Volkswagen are attributable to communication and transparency issues. In his article, Lippe (2015) also predicted communication breakdown and intentional-non communication (willful blindness) as some of the major causes of the fraudulent incident. Therefore, I would have prevented the criminal incident as a manager in either the legal or the engineering department at Volkswagen through various strategic decisions. First, as a manager in the stipulated departments, I would have cautioned the company’s employees against the ethical consequences of willful blindness. The legal concept of willful blindness describes individuals’ decision to keep themselves intentionally unacquainted with specific facts and information that could implicate them directly or indirectly (Pelkmans & Bovensiepen, 2019). The primary objective of such intentional or willful ignorance is to avoid the possibility of any civil or criminal liability for certain criminal acts. In this case, I believe that willful blindness permeated Volkswagen’s engineering department. Willful blindness possibly encouraged organizational silence among the company’s employees, discouraging them from talking about the fraud at the engineering department (Pelkmans & Bovensiepen, 2019). In particular, some employees possibly feared risking their employment positions by raising the alarm on the issue.
I would have encouraged the employees to have constructive debates about critical processes and decisions and to say something without fearing any legal consequences. I think that creating and sustaining a culture of openness and transparency would have encouraged some of the disgruntled employees to speak out about the fraudulent behavior and to reveal the closely guarded secrets. As a legal expert, I could have developed relevant company policies to make the employees feel secure enough to speak up and seek comprehensive responses to hard questions from the top management. Similarly, from an ethical perspective, I would have encouraged trust and openness among the staff in the engineering department. I believe that trust and transparency are efficient oversight tools in every organization. Notably, such open discussions could have helped the team understand and interpret some of the complex mechanical and technological information about the new system. Furthermore, through trust, junior employees at the department could have sought clarifications on the technical development and functioning properties of the diesel engines before final approval.
As a manager in the engineering department, I would have paid attention to early warning signs. Some of these signs included pressure on the employees to meet robust internal cost and quality targets and professional negligence. For instance, I think that the employees installed the emissions-rigging software in the diesel engines to help the company penetrate the diesel market. I believe that such overly ambitious expectations encouraged professional negligence among the employees. Therefore, I would identify and eliminate such early warning signs by setting realistic expectations and reasonable timelines.
As a manager in the engineering department, I could have introduced an independent quality control department to control and ascertain the standards of the company’s products before releasing them into the market. The primary objective of quality control is to facilitate the determination of the need for any corrective actions on key production processes to meet strict market expectations and consumer demands. I believe that a clear description of the quality standards to focus on during the production processes could have helped the engineering department to review the functionality and efficiency of the diesel engines. Through such clear operational procedures on quality specifications, the company’s engineers could have identified the problem and made relevant improvements to the products.
Lastly, I would use various biblical perspectives and arguments to discourage possible engagement in corrupt practices, especially among the engineering department employees. I would quote biblical verses such as Proverbs 11: 3 that states, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them” (Hendrickson Publishers, 2011) to encourage trustworthiness. Through such biblical encouragement, I would have strengthened the employees’ resolve and desires to act as whistleblowers by reporting illegal practices within the department. More importantly, as a legal manager, I would sensitize the emp0loyeers about important laws such as the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Clean Air Act (United States Department of Labor). I believe that such information will encourage the employees to express their honest opinions and observations on such vital issues.
- As the CEO of the diesel division of Volkswagen, how would you have responded when the situation became public? How would this response prevent future incidents?
As the CEO of the company’s diesel division, I would have responded using different strategies when the situation became public. First, I believe that the CEO is responsible for the development and implementation of a corporate culture favoring ethical behaviors over corporate profits. Therefore, I would encourage the company’s employees to detect and report related issues to senior executives in the future. Persuading the employees to speak up without any penalty or legal consequence will help create a culture of openness and trust within the organization. Similarly, I would encourage the employees to cooperate with investigative bodies such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to facilitate the identification of the main problems. For example, I believe that Volkswagen’s engineers should freely provide extensive debriefings with the EPA and other federal agencies. Through such honest and transparent investigations, the company can regain consumers’ trust, market share, and corporate profits.
I would also involve a third party, such as an independent agency to audit the primary causes of the perceived fraudulent behaviors on emissions and safety standards. The engagement of such independent auditing processes will help Volkswagen to prevent and eliminate most of these risks in future production procedures. Besides, the transparent auditing process is also an acknowledgment of the company’s mistakes and the desire to correct the problems. Therefore, while releasing the auditing report, I will remain genuine, sensitive, and human by apologizing to the affected customers. I will also send personalized messages to the affected parties, assuring them of the company’s commitment to quality and efficient products. Addressing important follow-up questions and concerns from the disgruntled consumers will also help the company to solve the public relations crisis. Fundamentally, I will shift my engagement with the affected customers to positive news such as possible monetary compensation and recall of the faulty products. Overall, I will dissect and learn from the situation to prevent the possibility of future problems.
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Hendrickson Publishers. (2011). The Holy Bible: King James Version. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Bibles. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=3EUgOyrQnmEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=bible&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjR96LekrXrAhUQzIUKHdx8AvAQ6AEwA3oECAYQAg#v=onepage&q=bible&f=false
Lippe, P. (2015, October 13). Volkswagen: Where were the lawyers? ABA Journal. Retrieved from http://www.abajournal.com/legalrebels/article/volkswagen_where_were_the_lawyers/
Pelkmans, M., & Bovensiepen, J. (2019). Dynamics of willful blindness: an introduction. Critique of Anthropology.
United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). The whistleblower protection programs. Retrieved August 27, 2017, from https://www.whistleblowers.gov/statutes_page.html