I write science fiction and I’m interested in the future, how it and we the human race, will turn out. I just regret I won’t around to see most of whatever will take place. I know most of science fiction is about catastrophe and conflict, because that’s what makes a good story. However, I do try to be optimistic about that future, after all my genes (if not me) have a stake in it. But sometimes things happen that make you wonder and for me the VW emissions scandal is one of them. It’s like when are human beings not human? – when they are a corporation. Somehow when things go wrong we talk about institutions as if they weren’t run by people, as if they have independent lives of there own.
As for VW the trust they’ve built up with their buying public (and without whom they don’t exist) goes out of the window. It seems their PR and advertising claims around integrity etc. were just that, advertising and PR. The old saying ‘practice what you preach’ comes to mind. How did they imagine they wouldn’t be found out at some point? Even though the tests themselves seem to be biased to delivering the best possible result, they still cheated. It’s like saying the world doesn’t matter, people (our buyers) and their health don’t matter. All that matters is shareholder value and profit. I’m sure many individuals in the corporation would not agree, but it seems that the corporation despite being made up of those same individuals has a different view. How can that be? Perhaps part of the problem with global companies is that they are just that, global, too detached from the customers and the results of their actions.
For a long time I worked for a large pharmaceutical company and at one time there was a lot of talk about having a ‘social contract’ i.e. the general public (us) would no longer accept companies going their own maverick ways. They expected certain standards of behaviour and if we broke that contract then the company would suffer. After all companies are run by people and we all live on the same planet and we all affect each other. Well, I feel VW have now broken their social contract and after all the fines, compensation etc. it will be interesting to see how forgiving the car buying public will be.
During the UK MPs expenses scandal the satirical magazine Private Eye had a cover with a picture of the houses of parliament with one speech bubble saying ‘shame’ and another ‘shame we got caught’. I wonder if the same applies now? At the moment it seems VW are being slow to respond. It is as if, behind closed doors, meetings are being held to discuss how they got found out and how to minimise the damage rather than about putting things right. The hand wringing and apologies seem more to do with restoring the company’s fortunes than real regret.
Perhaps I’m too naïve, perhaps it is all part of being human. It has always gone on, it’s just that now companies operate on a world-wide basis and affect millions and billions. The banking crisis affected the whole world and again there were hand wringing, apologies and reforms and promises. Yet there have been more scandals and fixing – and we’re left wondering what has really changed?
Perhaps we don’t just need a social contract with corporations we, the people who buy the cars/use the services, need an actual contract. And if a company/corporation break that contract they should be made to not only compensate those affected, they should also have do some good in the world in proportion to the offence they’ve committed.
Meanwhile I’ll keep trying to be optimistic.
As always views and comments are welcome.