It’s bad enough when a well-known global company such as Volkswagen commits an egregious ethical transgression by blatantly lying to its customers. But when the company also lies to governments and is caught, the lapse is not only an ethical dilemma—it’s a felony.
The Volkswagen emissions scandal first erupted in 2015, when it was discovered that the German automotive company had intentionally programmed some of its models to evade EPA emissions standards. About eleven million cars—500,000 sold in the U.S.—were programmed to pass laboratory testing of emissions to meet regulatory standards. However, once the cars were in use, their emissions went far above those standards.
The fraud was made public by a group of scientists at West Virginia University who revealed how VW, the world’s largest automaker, was using software in its diesel models to subvert pollution regulations. Since then, the rigging of the results has had wide ranging repercussions. After the initial discovery, the Volkswagen CEO stepped down. As recently as January of this year, six VW executives were indicted, and the FBI arrested Volkswagen’s head of regulatory compliance. One VW executive is being held without bail.
The company faces legal fines, consumer backlash, and investor woes. Some say the aftermath of the scandal can have even wider-ranging effects on other German carmakers and even the auto industry at large.
What were they thinking?
- Should corporations have a moral responsibility to be honest about regulations that affect the environment, not people? Why or why not? Was anyone hurt by Volkswagen’s misdeeds?
- What do you think about the mindset that infers anything that an organization does is okay as long as no one is caught?
- Do you think executives who systematically deceived regulators and consumers should serve prison terms?