If you are a Volkswagen employee, you have until the end of November to come clean.
Last week VW announced that it will offer amnesty to workers covered by collective bargaining pacts if they admit any role they might have played in the emissions-testing scandal. This amnesty avers that employees who come forward will not be fired from their employment with the company, but VW did note that it reserves the right to transfer any employee who came forward to take advantage of the amnesty offer. Of course this offer will not affect how prosecutors might view any evidence developed through this process.
No doubt drawing on the success that another German behemoth, Siemens, had when it offered amnesty to its employees during its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act inquiry in the 2000s, VW is using this tactic to encourage employees to come forward to help the company understand how such a wide-range scandal could have occurred. While there have been press reports of one unidentified whistleblower who has come forward, apparently the company has hit a wall of silence around how all this occurred. Given the potential individual criminal stake involved both in Germany and the United States, this is not too surprising.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the amnesty memo sent out by Herbert Diess, head of the VW brand division, which announced the program. It read in part that “every day counts” and that employees have until Nov. 30 to provide “complete and truthful information.” Finally Diess wrote, “We depend on the cooperation and knowledge from you, our employees, to carry out a complete resolution of all events connected to the diesel and [carbon-dioxide] issues.”
Opinions on this new move from VW diverge quite a bit. Trace International President Alexandra Wrage, quoted in the New York Times said, “It is not a common practice. It’s a tacit admission, however, that the usual reporting channels have been ineffective.” The FCPA Professor noted: “The amnesty program is not so much designed for the people who are viewed as culpable actors, but rather, for the midlevel people who may have, without even knowing it, some relevant information. That kind of information may be minor in scope, but it’s the cumulative effect—the pieces of minor information put together lead to a more defined picture for the company.”
Whatever you might think about the tactic, it has succeeded before, in the Siemens bribery and corruption scandal. Siemens, however, had to leave the amnesty program open for considerably longer than the two weeks Volkswagen is offering.
Obviously VW is feeling the heat of the U.S. Justice Department to provide some answers. If you are a VW employee, you may want to jump on the Amnesty Microbus sooner rather than later.