U.S. Inspector larry thompson has certified that VW has learned from the diesel scandal – but that the company must not slacken in implementing stricter regulations.
"Volkswagen is a better company today than it was three years ago," the lawyer said at the end of his examinations on monday. The government in washington had sent thompson to check on VW’s reform pledges following the revelation of the emissions scandal.
Hiltrud werner, member of the board of management responsible for integration and legal affairs, told the deutsche presse-agentur: "achieving the certificate he issued us is a milestone, but it’s not the end of it. We will continue to work in the same way."Thompson also made it clear that "constant vigilance" was necessary. "But the existing structures and processes and commitments at all levels of the company (…) can help volkswagen achieve long-term and sustainable success in terms of ethics, integrity and compliance," the group quoted him as saying in a statement.
Task of former undersecretary of state at u.S. Department of justice was to ensure that criminal behavior was not repeated at the world-beating automaker after the diesel debt settlement. At the beginning of 2017, VW had reached an agreement with the U.S. Authorities on a settlement worth billions, after which thompson was sent to wolfsburg. He observed and checked the tightening of existing as well as the introduction of new regulations and procedures. The main aim was to ensure that misconduct is punished more consistently and that employees no longer have to fear using a whistleblower system to report such incidents.
"The whistleblower system has taken up the bulk of the testing activities," werner explained. Thompson had said that it could only be as good as the worst handled case. "The bar was set very high."Employees now had the opportunity to report possible irregularities around the clock by phone or online, anonymously or by disclosing their identity.
More than four-fifths of the disclosures are now made non-anonymously, which facilitates inquiries during investigations. "This shows an increased confidence in the company’s culture," werner said. In 2019, group employees acted as whistleblowers around 2,000 times. In 60 to 70 cases, after a thorough examination, there were "serious violations" that "had to be intensively investigated," he said.
In the third year of supervision, thompson, together with more than 150 members of the internal audit department and the company’s own 50-strong team, continued to examine many processes and procedures – at the core VW brand, but also at audi, skoda and seat. "That was an exhausting exercise," said werner. "But this testing showed that there were no more critical findings. We now have more security."
In the civil law issues, the US lawyer had already drawn a conclusion of VW’s "preservation time" in the summer. In the meantime, thompson saw a need for improvement on a number of points. During its first year of supervision, deficiencies were identified in the timely transfer of information from an employee survey and data on new emissions tests to the california environmental protection agency (CARB). Such deficiencies have now not reappeared.
Chief executive officer herbert diess was satisfied. However, he also stressed that the group must not sit back: "I am committed to the continuous further improvement of our company and its culture, as are all my colleagues on the management board."
Thompson also observed the dispute over a racist instagram video, werner said. He was regularly informed about the status of german criminal proceedings: "we are no longer parties to many of the proceedings, but the legal clarification of individual cases is nevertheless an important step for us in order to bring the diesel crisis to a conclusion."
For example, ex-VW CEO martin winterkorn and other former executives are said to be facing a fraud trial because of "dieselgate". In the case of diess and supervisory board chairman hans dieter potsch, market manipulation proceedings were dropped for 9 million euros.
According to its own figures, volkswagen implemented a total of around 300 new or amended regulations. They are to create a "globally uniform framework for demanding integrity and compliance. An overarching code of conduct for all twelve group brands is also new. Around 690 million euros went into improving the structures. VW has had to pay a total of 32 billion euros in legal costs so far, most of it in north america.