The scandal involving General Motors surrounds millions of recalled vehicles, hundreds injured, and over twenty deaths resulting from a faulty ignition switch. However, the ignition switch is only part of the story. The two questions everyone seems to be asking is why General Motors waited to issue a recall, and why didn’t they replace the part when they realized it was faulty? These two questions seem to hint toward a long tradition of unethical and, possibly, illegal behavior throughout the company.
On the surface, the corporate culture at General Motors values employees having more responsibility and autonomy; taking risks, and establishing rapport with customers. However, CNN Money quotes Bill McAleer, a former GM manager, stating, “[employees were] faced with a culture where you get fired if you do talk about quality and safety issues, and you get fired if you don't talk about them." (Sheridan, 2014) Had employees been able to speak openly about safety issues, particularly the ignition switch, this scandal might have been avoided. This presents an ethical dilemma for both the employee and management. The employee is put in an impossible position of whether to risk facing repercussions for reporting a safety issue, or to not report the safety issue and risk the lives of their customers.
Alternatively, management had to face their own ethical dilemma. Most car companies have specific procedures in place to gauge whether a recall should be issued. For the managers at General Motors, they had to measure the amount of deaths against the amount of vehicles that had been manufactured with the faulty ignition switch. Recent numbers suggest that over 29 million vehicles have been recalled because of the ignition switch; however, only 21 deaths have been linked thus far. (Huddleston, 2014) While 21 deaths is disturbing, managers had to decide if the probability of failure was high enough to warrant a massive recall costing billions.
While many would...