The Volkswagen case is a complete failure in Corporate social responsibility (CSR). It was a deliberate attempt to avoid emissions control. This is a strategy that is well-known at the highest levels. The aim of the case against Volkswagen was to give the company an unfair advantage over other car makers.
This rejection to any ethical standards in engineering has led not only to the resignation of the CEO but also the head of Audi’s R+D and Porsche’s engine chief. One thing is clear: The company’s CSR division must have known about what was happening. All the testing done, including the creation of software that could place an engine in test mode and return it to normal, are documented. The responsible individuals can be identified at all levels of Volkswagen. Software can take over the complexity of a product. It is essential to be transparent, to document each step and to embrace open source.
This is an engine, not a meaning or interpretation. Volkswagen tried to conceal the fact that their diesel engines were extremely contaminating. How could the head of CSR claim he didn’t know anything? Either they weren’t doing their jobs or were conspiring. Volkswagen CSR is simply a marketing exercise.
This conclusion is true for the majority of companies. A head of CSR is appointed and given a good reputation. He or she runs a department whose job it is to maintain the company’s image, regardless of the filth that it is in. As is the case with Volkswagen. We have been fooled again into believing that companies can and do regulate themselves. However, the sad reality is that their only goal is to maximize profits, no matter how symbolic.
Volkswagen decided it didn’t matter that its cars pollute the earth by emitting 40 times more nitrogen oxide than the legal limit, so long as it was able to be the world’s largest car manufacturer. There are many parallels between the car industry and the tobacco industry, especially in terms of the lies we believe about the consequences of our actions. While some smokers may still claim that their smoke is safe, millions of car drivers will continue to emit dangerous gases as long as their cars run faster and more efficiently.
Volkswagen drivers are most concerned about the following: “What will I have to do to my vehicle, and is it going make it more difficult? We don’t see the constant poisoning of the planet and are more worried about being able to get away faster at the lights. We aren’t willing to pay the price for a cleaner environment. We’d rather have a faster car than to do something about the thousands of respiratory illnesses that are fatal each year.
CSR is essentially asking companies to self regulate. We must be wrong if the majority of people view CSR as unnecessary, a luxury that shouldn’t get in our way of making profits, or giving us that wonderful feeling of acceleration when it is time to put our foot down. CSR leaders know this fact and know where their bread is browned.
In stark contrast, the Volkswagen case demonstrates that CSR must be reinvented. These people must be held accountable for the actions of their companies, even if it means going to prison. In return for taking on this responsibility, these people must be paid well and have budgets that allow them to create systems to discover what is really happening in their companies. The Volkswagen crisis is a reminder of the failures of capitalism. It shows a system that has shut its eyes to the realities of the future and is clearly not sustainable.
You need to question whether or not you know what’s going on at work, and whether you are complicit with activities that are directly contrary to your supposed responsibility. Are you a head of window dressing or a head of CSR? Do you have the courage to lie, cover up, or even kill others in order to increase your company’s profits? What is more important: the sustainability of your business or the wellbeing of the planet? What is more important: Tens of thousands of people dying from cancer and respiratory diseases, or the sitting on the throne in the global automotive industry?
CSR has, in short, failed. The Volkswagen experience is so significant and so true that it should inspire companies to rethink their priorities as well as the role of their CSR department. It is possible that something similar could happen to their company. It is important to ask whether their company is willing to lie, cheat, and kill people to make the same profits as Volkswagen. Ask them if their board is as reckless as Volkswagen’s.
If they are in CSR, but don’t believe that the Volkswagen disaster merits serious reflection about their actions, perhaps it is time to step aside from the wheel and be socially and corporately responsible.