VW offers limited amnesty to workers for emission cheating information

Some employees of the car company could receive amnesty from getting fired if they divulge information about the rigging of diesel emission tests. 

Michael Probst/AP
The Volkswagen logo of a car is photographed during a car show in Frankfurt, Germany. on Sept. 22, 2015. Some staff members at Volkswagen have been given amnesty from getting fired if they reveal what they know about the emissions scandal.

Volkswagen has come up with a whistleblower amnesty program as it tries to emerge from the emissions scandal that has engulfed the car company.

In a move to resolve the scandal, the German automaker has told its employees to come forward and reveal what they know about the diesel emissions test cheating saga.  

According to the Associated Press, Volkswagen brand manager Herbert Diess told staff in a letter Thursday that the company won't seek damages or fire employees for what they might reveal.

“In this process, every single day counts,” Mr. Diess, said. “We are counting on your cooperation and knowledge as our company’s employees to get to the bottom of the diesel and CO2 issue.”

Volkswagen has hired the American law firm of Jones Day to carry out an internal investigation into the emissions scandal.

The amnesty offer is valid through Nov. 30, and applies only to employees who are covered by collective bargaining agreements. The offer does not cover managers and board members.

The company has been rocked by the revelation of an emissions test cheating scandal that came to light this year.

In September, Volkswagen admitted that as many as 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide, including almost 500,000 in the United States encompassing model years 2009 to 2015, had the cheating software installed.  

Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued a second notice to Volkswagen accusing the company of installing 'defeat devices' aimed at manipulating emissions tests. Volkswagen disputed the claims.

The world’s largest automaker last week also admitted to cheating on carbon dioxide emissions certifications for 800,000 of its diesel and gasoline vehicles in Europe.

The International Business Times reports that the carbon issue came to light after employees admitted to tampering with the data in order to reduce emissions by 30 percent.  “There was apparent pressure to do so within the company, based on statements during a 2012 auto show in which former CEO Martin Winterkorn said he wanted VW to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2015.”

While corporate amnesty programs are not common, the approach has been used effectively in Germany before.

In 2008, Siemens, an electronics and engineering company, said it would extend a limited amnesty for employees who came out about illegal practices in the company. Dozens of staff members came forward.

“It is not a common practice,” Alexandra Wrage, president of Trace International, a company in Annapolis, Md., that provides advice to companies on compliance issues, told The New York Times

“When there has been a protracted climate of secrecy or fear, this can be a very effective tool,” Ms. Wrage said. “It’s a tacit admission, however, that the usual reporting channels have been ineffective.”

Volkswagen has set aside about $7.8 billion to meet the cost of recalling and fixing the diesel vehicles worldwide that were fitted with the “defeat devices” that allowed cheating on emissions tests.

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