If only Volkswagen had embraced Whistleblowing

As the fallout from one of the biggest scandals in corporate history continues to roll on, one key question on commentators’ lips is “Why did no-one speak out earlier?”

Well the truth of the matter is, according to Bild, the national German daily newspaper, that a VW engineer did warn the giant carmaker that what they were doing was illegal back in 2011. However as is often the case he didn’t appear to receive acknowledgement or support from the management. What has emerged it that it is now very clear that Bosch, the originally developer of the software, informed Volkswagen about the legality of their actions as far back as 2007.

“These whistleblowers were just doing their job”, commented Ian Abel, Head of Michael Lewin Solicitors Employment department, “but with a management chain that either didn’t have the relevant training to handle a whistleblower disclosure, or a management chain that remained determined to ignore this individual and continue with its illegal action – the case was never going to see the light of day.”

Georgina Halford-Hall from Whistleblowers UK (WBUK) agrees, “Whistleblowers always feel penalised for ‘just doing their job’. The overwhelming evidence available demonstrates that whistleblowers set out to protect the public, this is undoubtedly the case at Volkswagen. However Volkswagen’s reactions to the whistleblower appears to be similar to that of so many other organisations, in as much as in the first instance the disclosure is ignored or covered up. Volkswagen would seem to prefer us all to believe that the illegal modifications were committed by a rogue employee/s and that no one with the authority to rectify problems knew anything. Given what we know about this companies rigorous quality control, I think this is highly unlikely. There can be little doubt that whatever the truth those in senior positions at this company were reluctant to act on the information provided by employees who tried to expose wrongdoing.”

Georgina continued “What has happened at Volkswagen highlights the importance of protecting and defending the rights of all whistleblowers. We owe whistleblowers a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices that they make to help keep us safe”.

As the true cost to the VW Group continues to add up (currently a conservative estimate is that this whole scandal will cost them in excess of £4.7bn to resolve), if only they had listened and taken the correct action a decade ago, none of this would be happening today.

The engineers’ ethical duties in these circumstances is very straight-forward as one of the key principles and Software Engineering Code of Ethics, of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in conjunction with the IEEE is to “Disclose to appropriate persons or authorities any actual or potential danger to the user, the public, or the environment, that they reasonably believe to be associated with software or related documents.”

One of the key issues here is that regardless of the industry, businesses do not know how to handle whistleblowing.

For information about whistleblowing visit the WBUK website www.wbuk.org

Been accused of whistleblowing?, then seek the relevant legal advice http://www.michaellewin.co.uk/employment/whistleblowing-claims/

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