Sometimes the dishonesty, the sheer venality of corporations, the extent to which they will break every law going if they think they can get away with it, takes even me aback. And I have been studying them at close range for almost four decades.
Volkswagen has been found to have been fitting special software in its cars in the US to deceive the authorities when they run environmental tests. When the cars are being driven normally, they pollute; when they are being tested, the software kicks in and those emissions reduce.
The VW board is meeting today to decide what approach to take to having been discovered with their hands super-glued to the bottom of the cookie jar. It is hard to think of more blatant corporate wrong-doing. The cars are built to a lower spec than users are persuaded is the case. They are presumably paying more than the car is worth, and the authorities are being fooled into thinking they are “cleaner” than they are, so allowing the manufacturer to save on costs and make a better margin.
On a scale of dishonesty, this is a long way ahead of, say, the food manufacturers’ nasty habit of cutting the costs of the ingredients that go into their product by reducing the size of the packaging and then charging the same, a long-running scam.
It is not too far short of saying, well, the brakes on our cars work most of the time. We’ll not mention the times they don’t. It’ll probably be all right. (This has happened.)
What baffles me is the mentality of the people who work for Volkswagen. These are real people, with, one assumes, the same ethical standards as the rest of us. It was a deliberate plot. Did someone one day say, if we fit this software we needn’t worry about environmental legislation? And did someone else say, oh, go on, then?
Did no one question the morality of such a deliberate deception? There must have been thousands in the know. Volkswagen is a huge company, producing almost 10 million cars and trucks in 2013.
Most corporate fraud starts off small, a bit of creative accounting here, some mild theft there. It then snowballs, either because the perpetrators see they can get away with it or because, as the business turns down, the accounts have to be more and more artfully manipulated to avoid the earlier wrong-doing coming to light.
This was presumably conceived from the off. Oh, the joy that it was dreamt up by the po-faced, self-righteous, environmentally aware Germans.