The cause of the devastating mudslide in Brazil is still unclear: The dam at the Córrego do Feijao Mine of the Brazilian mining group Vale was broken at the end of last week. The mud roller had then rolled over several settlements. So far, 84 deaths have been confirmed and nearly 300 people are still missing.

Brazilian investigators have then targeted the Vale Group - and the inspectors of the Munich TÜV Süd, which should check on behalf of and for the account of Vale the dam. That's why Brazil's police arrested two TÜV employees at the beginning of the week. TÜV Süd had inspected the dam twice in 2018, in June and in September.

The TÜV as a global player

The mine catastrophe casts a spotlight on the business models of the technical inspection associations, which have changed noticeably in recent years. The companies TÜV Süd, TÜV Rheinland and TÜV Nord are known to most people in Germany because of their role in the regularly scheduled main vehicle inspections.

photo gallery

14 pictures

Dam failure: devastating mudslide in Brazil

However, these accounted for only a fraction of the turnover for a long time. In 2016, the head of TÜV Rheinland estimated their share at 17 percent. Much more important have become other business areas - also abroad. For example, TÜV employees now inspect climbing frames, factories or hospitals all over the world. The TÜV Süd AG - a registered association is only the TÜV Süd eV, which owns 75 percent of the AG - has now more than 800 locations around the world, 24,000 employees and most recently generated 2.4 billion euros annual revenue.

The same applies to sister companies: TÜV Rheinland AG has 20,000 employees and generates around two billion in sales. Since 2012, the Group has been making more money on its own than in Germany. A little smaller, the TÜV Nord with 10,000 employees.

Originally founded in the 19th century for the testing of steam boilers in Germany, the expansion into new countries and new business fields also has risks for the auditors, whose most important asset was the almost unreserved trust of consumers for a long time.

But the reputation of the TÜV companies has been shaken in recent years. An overview:

The S & K investment fraud

In 2013, investigators arrested the managing directors of the S & K Group on suspicion of gang and commercial fraud. The company had raised hundreds of millions of euros from investors over the years - using the blue seal of TÜV Süd, among other things. The certificates gave clients the impression that the company's business model had been independently audited. In fact, the TÜV had only contented with documents that S & K had provided itself.

After the scandal was revealed, the "WirtschaftsWoche" quoted a TÜV executive as saying that the test was "so thin that it was almost embarrassing". In response to the case, TÜV Süd stated that it would no longer be able to certify financial products in the future.

Faulty breast implants

In 2010, the head of the implant manufacturer PIP disappeared in France, in 2011 Interpol searched for him. His company had distributed defective breast implants. Responsible for certification: TÜV Rheinland. According to the company, in the case of the manufacturer was "as cheated as the affected women".

The company's job was simply to "evaluate the product design and certify the quality assurance system established by PIP." Continuous quality controls were not part of the contract. Deep scratches in the image of the German examiner left the case nevertheless.


Defective PIP implant (2011)

Things went so well for TÜV Süd in a similar case: in 2015, the examiners issued the certification of breast implants from the Brazilian manufacturer Silimed, after TÜV inspectors discovered irregularities during an unannounced factory visit. The manufacturer had used cheap industrial silicone for its products.

Wrong impression through website check

Not so good was the certification offered by TÜV Rheinland to website operators. Many Internet users assumed that the content was particularly reliable given the TÜV seal. In fact, however, the TÜV testers retreated to the point of view, only to evaluate the technical functionality of the Internet portals.

In an interview with the "Welt am Sonntag", TÜV Rheinland CEO Michael Fübi commented self-critically. The company is withdrawing "from businesses that could damage our reputation." No longer awarded would certificates for "medical wellness" or the label "odor nuisance".

The wonder weather station for ten euros

In 2011, a report by TÜV Süd got into the headlines that weather stations in the assortment of a large discounter (retail price: 9.99 euros) attested true miracles. The device was able to produce weather forecasts to four days in advance, no less reliable than programs that were fed with satellite images - although the weather station, for example, measured the humidity only in the house itself.

The factory catastrophe of Bangladesh

In April 2013, the building of an eight-storey textile factory collapsed in Bangladesh - just months after a TÜV Rheinland team inspected the Rana Plaza complex. Several non-governmental organizations then filed a complaint with the National Contact Point (NCP) of the OECD in the Federal Ministry of Economics against the TÜV, because of an inadequate test report.


Rana Plaza disaster 2013

In July 2018, the contact point concluded that there was no "contribution or direct link to the collapse of the building". It followed essentially the position of the TÜV, in the so-called social audit it was gone to working conditions, but not to questions of building statics.

However, in its final report, the NCP raises unpleasant questions for the TÜV - for example, whether it really makes sense to have "social audits paid by the owners of the factories checked".

In Germany too, potential conflicts of interest have already triggered criticism. For example, energy companies like E.on and Vattenfall are involved in TÜV Süd eV, for example, through the owner association TÜV Süd eV. At the same time, the TÜV Süd Industrie Service division is responsible for the safety of power plants and wind turbines. In the summer of 2018, for example, TÜV Süd proudly announced that it had been awarded the contract for the certification of a large offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea. The client is Vattenfall.