Ethisphere Institute’s “Most Ethical Companies” List Has Ethical Issues

The list–two years ago.

The Ethisphere Institute, which publishes Ethisphere Magazine, has released its 2009 list of the 99 most ethical companies in the world. US News and World Report has more:

Companies are scored based on criteria including corporate citizenship, governance, innovation that contributes to public well being, industry and executive leadership, reputation and internal ethics programs.

Winners include the likes of Honeywell International, Nike, Patagonia, and HSBC Holdings.

As with all lists, this one is a bit subjective. Reuters notes “diversity, layoffs, executive compensation and outsourcing are not part of the criteria” and that some of the winners (like Nike) get points for righting past wrongs.

24/7 Wall Street
points out that the list itself has ethical issues:

The most significant problem whether the winning firms are members of the Ethisphere “Business Ethics Leadership Alliance.” The executive director of the Business Ethics Leadership Alliance is Suzanne Hawkins. In addition to consulting for several blue chip companies on an independent basis, Ms. Hawkins draws on her experience as Senior Counsel, Legal Operations at General Electric Company and as a Director on the Board of the Association of Corporate Counsel to guide BELA and its members.

What kind of consulting does Ms. Hawkins do? Is she paid by any of the companies on the World Most Ethical Company list? That would be “unethical.”

Fifteen of the companies that made the list are members of the Business Ethics Leadership Alliance. That looks a little a conflict.

There may be a number of reasons that it is inappropriate that firms like GE (GE), Dell (DELL), Starbucks (SBUX), and Weyerhaeuser should not be winners. But, the real trouble with the entire process is that it has the appearance of many of the corporations on the list “voting for themselves” due to the close ties with The Ethisphere Institute.


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Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.