Why You Should Be Unsettled by the Biggest Automotive Settlement in History
16 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2018 Last revised: 13 Oct 2018
Date Written: February 1, 2018
The settlement that followed the Volkswagen emissions scandal has been touted as the largest one in automative history. Affected car owners can sell their cars back to VW at pre-scandal prices and receive compensation on top of that; additionally, VW must pay billions of dollars into a climate mitigation fund to offset the emissions generated by its deceit. However, conscious consumers--individuals who care about the environmental and social impact of their purchases--should be cautious about overstating the settlement's precedential value. This is because the factors that contributed to making it so large are quite unique. This Essay argues that it is too easy for companies to make and then break sustainability promises without fear of accountability, and that it is too hard for consumers aggrieved by broken sustainability promises to vindicate their expectations in court. It introduces the notion of identity harm, which refers to the anguish experienced by consumers who come to learn that their efforts to consume in line with their personal values have been undermined by a seller's false or exaggerated promises about its wares. It proposes adding identity harm to the consumer law toolkit to better protect consumers' sustainability-related expectations, and, down the line, to improve the sustainability performance of corporations.
Keywords: Volkswagen, Dieselgate, settlement, false advertising, consumer protection, consumer law, conscious consumerism, ethical consumption
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