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Ethics is the formal study of morality. Morality is a behaviour by which a person ought to act. The code of ethics of an engineer as outlines the moral guidelines by which an engineer ought to act. The IEE lists 10 code of ethics which can be summarised as;
An engineer is responsible to act correctly and in line with the above code of ethics at all times. However, responsibility and morality, while similar, have different meanings. There are three main forms of responsibility of an Engineer; Causal: The operator Role: Role or assigned task or virtue of position Legal: Legal ramifications whereby one can be sued Legal responsibility and code of ethics are easily confused. Just because an engineer is not legally responsible, it does not mean he/she are not morally responsible. Moral can be shared and is focused on future actions. It should be noted that many of the code of ethics listed by the IEEE will not result in any legal ramifications.
For example, a Senior Engineer is role responsible for passing on his or her expertise knowledge to a young graduate engineer. The sharing of knowledge is a key trait of a responsible engineer. This cannot be achieved without a willingness to learn. An engineer is responsible to continuously strive to learn and it is a balance between learning and teaching that makes a responsible engineer.
VW Emissions Scandal The Volkswagen scandal emerged in September 2015, when the company admitted that nearly 600,000 cars sold in the US had been fitted with ‘defect devices’. These ‘defect devices’ were actually a software system which switched on when the car was being emission tested and turned off when it was being driven on the road . This resulted in VW cars emitting far higher emissions while being driven commercially as opposed to what VW claimed and what had been tested. The situation arose in the beginning of 2006 when Volkswagen realised they could not produce a Diesel engine which would give customers the performance they wanted and meet the strict US emission standards. What is ethically worse than the fraud itself is the cover up. US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch stated ‘VW obfuscated, they denied, and they ultimately lied’ . Engineers specifically stated that the device should absolutely not be used in the US and that some Engineers raised objections of the device in late 2006 . The concealment of the software reached the uppermost echelon of VW with the ex-CEO of VW Martin Winterkorn being charged with conspiracy and wire-fraud . The entire scandal has cost the company approximately $29 Billion. That being said, any damage to the company’s reputation appears to have been short term, with VW selling 10. 7 million cars last year. A new record. The VW scandal is a blatant disregard for the responsibilities of an engineer and in clear breach of the code of ethics. While only the senior staff are legally accountable for the scandal, every employee aware of the issue is responsible. Throughout history there has always been a ‘I was only following orders’ attitude when it comes to these types of scenarios. As a professional it is amoral to blindly follow orders.
There were several VW employee’s aware and unhappy with the situation. Every engineer is responsible to adhere to the code of ethics. Being moral is easy when times are good. Morality is only truly tested in tough times and that is when it is most import to adhere to a higher code of ethics as listed by IEEE. Every engineer should learn that they have a voice and should not allow a scandal like this to persist within their workplace. VW were dishonest and in breach of the IEEE’s third code of ethic. Another key lesson to remember is that ‘truth will out’. Despite the fact that VW were not caught for almost 10 years, the truth finally caught up with them. Every engineer should learn that even in the most difficult of situation, by acting morally they are acting responsibly and cannot be held accountable as a result. Amoral actions only result in a deeper hole.
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