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The most important issue raised by the GM recall scandal: Part I

American auto giant General Motors has become the subject of heightened scrutiny in recent months. After it became clear that numerous GM employees were aware of a potentially deadly defect affecting millions of models but did nothing to fix the problem or alert the public, Americans reacted with outrage. To add insult to injury, it has also come to light that certain GM employees were aware of this defect’s existence and potential to inspire fatal car accidents for nearly a decade and did absolutely nothing to address the issue, even after a minimum of 13 deaths were linked to the defect.

This defect scandal raises a host of issues which are ripe for reform. However, one of the most pressing issues that the scandal raises has not been adequately reported on by the media. Yes, auto-makers should be held accountable for the kind of negligence and/or fraud GM exhibited in withholding information. And yes, federal regulators should be more proactive in addressing auto defects. However, it is also imperative that companies be held accountable for silencing whistleblowers who attempt to warn lawmakers and the public when critical safety information is being withheld.

In the Valukas Report, GM’s internal investigation into the origins of the defect scandal, one GM safety inspector admitted that he was too fearful to address defect-related safety concerns because he had witnessed his predecessor get “pushed out of the job for doing just that.” The individual pushed out of his job for raising safety concerns is named Courtland Kelley. Kelley worked for GM for over 30 years before his actions contributed to a culture of silence about safety issues at the company, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

If Kelley’s concerns had been properly addressed instead of being dismissed, lives could have been saved. Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion about how GM practically silenced a whistleblower who could have changed the course of the defect scandal.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "GM Recalls: How General Motors Silenced a Whistle-Blower," Tim Higgins and Nick Summers, June 18, 2014

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