Volkswagen made a racist announcement. Here’s why no one got fired

The German company apologized last month for advertising its new Golf 8 and removed it from its official Instagram page.
The world’s largest carmaker told reporters that an internal investigation, which included interviews with employees and analysis of hundreds of documents, did not reveal “that there are no indications of racist intentions in the production or approval of the clip.”

The video was posted several times on social media accounts belonging to the company and its executives in March and May. He showed a large white hand pushing the black man away from the parked Golf, before throwing him into the Petit Colon restaurant, which in French means Little Colonist or Little Settler.

“When a colleague called me at 11 a.m. on May 19 and then sent me a link, my first thought was: That must be fake. My second thought was: Someone paired our account,” said Jürgen Stackmann, head of sales. for Volkswagen brands.

“The only conclusion you could draw was that he saw the racist. I was deeply shocked and wondered: was it sabotage, was it intentional, or did we really inadvertently make such a big mistake?”

Jochen Sengpiehl, Volkswagen’s marketing director, has taken responsibility for the ad, but will not lose his job. He said the intention is to create five short videos that revolve around couples in love and tricks that could be played on top of each other. The clip in question seeks to create a motif that Volkswagen says is popular with Instagram and TikTok users – a big hand.

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“No one on the team realized that the person’s departure was inappropriate in itself – and racist in the context portrayed,” he said. “We should never have made a mistake like that. Neither the agency nor we. We have to apologize for that – without any flaws. And ensure that something like this never happens again.”

Hiltrud Werner, who oversees integrity and legal affairs at Volkswagen, acknowledged that there were calls for the release of those responsible for the video, but said disciplinary proceedings would only be opened if the company’s values ​​were knowingly and intentionally violated.

“Integrity also means that as managers and as a company we stand by our employees even when a mistake is made. Therefore there will be no ‘scapegoat’,” she said.

The German carmaker said it would create a new board of diversity experts to review the content frame by frame and out of context for “potentially offensive, discriminatory and otherwise critical elements”. It will also provide ethics education for its employees and employees of advertising agencies, increase the diversity of its teams and create a new social media organization.

“Volkswagen is committed to humanity and diversity and strongly opposes racism, discrimination and xenophobia. We have always done so and will continue to do so,” Werner said.

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Volkswagen, which also produces vehicles under the Audi, Skoda, Seat and Porsche brands, is the world’s largest carmaker, delivering nearly 11 million vehicles in 2019.

The company was founded in 1937 under the Nazi regime and used slave labor from concentration camps to make vehicles. In 1998, the surviving workers sued the company that set up the compensation fund.

Volkswagen told last year after group CEO Herbert Diess used the term “EBIT macht frei” or “EBIT frees you” at a managerial event. EBIT is short for profit before interest and taxes and is a measure of a company’s profit. The term sounds similar to “Arbeit macht frei,” which was inscribed on the gates of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
2017 a commercial equating women with used cars has angered consumers in China and forced an apology from Audi. The ad, which was broadcast only in China, was produced by the used car departments of Volkswagen’s joint venture in China. And he was withdrawn.

– Eoin McSweeney, Chris Liakos and Nadine Schmidt contributed to the reporting.

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