Volkswagen not the first — or last — scandal

Earlier this week, the former CEO and owner of the Peanut Corporation of America was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his part in a salmonella outbreak that led to the death of nine people across the US. More than 700 people suffered illness and 166 being hospitalised as a result.

The contamination at the company’s now closed plant in Blakely in Georgia resulted in one of the largest food recalls in US history.

The former CEO, Stewart Parnell, was convicted on federal conspiracy charges, of creating fake food certificates and of knowingly shipping the contaminated products to customers.

His brother was sentenced to about 24 years on the same charges.

The judge said: “These acts were driven simply by the desire to profit. That is commonly and accurately referred to as greed.”

It would appear that they were not convicted of manslaughter because well-paid lawyers argued successfully that they could not prove conclusively that salmonella was the actual cause of death, despite all victims having apparently used the products.

Ahead of sentencing, Parnell said he was “truly sorry”. As we are now only too aware, sorry is no longer the hardest word to say.

Over recent days, there has been a several columns dealing with cover ups by major corporations. On Monday, Terry Prone wrote in her column of the cover- ups designed to protect shareholders’ ‘interests’, irrespective of the implications for the working and buying public.

Some of these ultimately resulted, directly or indirectly, in ill health and death for numerous people.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that once was lauded for its versatility, recognised for its heat resistance, tensile strength, and insulating properties, and used for everything from fire-proof vests to home and commercial construction.

It was woven into fabric, and mixed with cement. Asbestos has been in use for around 4,500 years.

However, it is lethal to humans. The inhalation of even one fibre can cause a slow and painful death years after inhalation.

Those in control down through the generations were aware of the implications of using asbestos, but since the workers were either slaves or peasants, it mattered little.

It was only in the middle of the last century that the issue was confronted. As Ms Prone said, “companies ignored the truth in the interests of profit”.

Ms Prone also wrote of the deadly fault in General Motor cars that caused the death of 120 people. As a result, it has had to pay out a third of a year’s income. Again, the issue was shrouded in secrecy.

Volkswagen not the first — or last — scandal

The latest one which raised its ugly head in the last few days is the discovery by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US that Volkswagen had installed software in its diesel-powered vehicles.

It is now being suggested that it could apply to some 11 million vehicles globally.

The software concerned acted to mask the real emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). When the vehicles were being tested the results met with the standards claimed.

In the UK, the relevant environment department claims that NO2 causes 23,500 deaths each year there. Mind you, the chances of making a connection between cause and effect is probably zero.

This revelation has all sorts of implications. The first is that the company could be fined up to $18bn (€16.1bn) in the US alone.

More importantly the company’s reputation is deep in the bottom of the toilet. Germany’s reputation has also been undermined.

Equally importantly, it has implications for many Irish drivers. Nearly 12,000 people bought diesel cars last year. Obviously they were not all VW cars but suspicion will now fall on other manufacturers.

Given that the figures being claimed may no longer be valid we can expect car tax based on emissions to increase.

Of course, VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn has resigned after saying he was “deeply sorry” that the car firm had “broken the trust of our customers and the public”.

If the EPA had not discovered this we would have never heard about it. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

More on this topic

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Volkswagen sued in US over diesel cheatingVolkswagen sued in US over diesel cheating

Volkswagen wins appeal against diesel car owner: German courtVolkswagen wins appeal against diesel car owner: German court

Porsche stops making diesel models after VW emissions scandalPorsche stops making diesel models after VW emissions scandal


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