Ethics pay for GE, eBay

17 March 2011
NEW YORK: General Electric, eBay and Aflac are among the world's "most ethical companies", according to a study published by specialist think-tank the Ethisphere Institute.

Ethisphere assessed 3,000 organisations from 36 countries, naming 110 as performing particularly well in terms of citizenship, social responsibility, governance, innovation and leadership.

General Electric, Zappos, Best Buy, Cisco and UPS were some of the leading US players credited with boasting strong credentials in this area.

Insurance provider Aflac has assumed the same status for five years in a row, one of 26 brand owners achieving repeated success on such a scale.

It adopted an extremely open approach during the financial crisis, revealing details of outstanding bonds on the web to reassure investors.

"There is a tendency, I think, in corporate America and in our personal lives to say, 'This will go away, let's not deal with it,'" said Daniel Amos, Aflac's chief executive.

"I have generally found it is better to go ahead and get it out in front of people and if it goes away, so be it. Don't try to wait or it just grows and gets bigger as time goes on."

The 36 new entries featured in Ethisphere's 2011 table included information technology giant Microsoft and consumer goods manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive.

Internet auction pioneer eBay was a further debutant, and John Donahoe, the firm's chief executive, argued this result demonstrates how its core principles can be transferred offline.

"eBay was founded on the belief that strangers could trust and connect with one another through global commerce," he said.

"Building this trust requires a sustained commitment to doing business with the highest level of integrity."

Hotel chain Marriott International, equally praised by the Ethisphere Institute, has ensured the probity of its practices at home remain consistent abroad.

Bill Marriott, the network's chief executive, cited the example of pressure to make unofficial payments in many nations, even for basic amenities.

"There are these 'facilitative payments,' I guess they call them, where you have a general manager of a hotel and they tell him, 'You want your trash picked up at Friday at 8am? We want a little extra.' We don't do it. We just say no," said Marriott.

"When we go outside the United States, I think people are accepting the fact that we don't do this."

"If you have accepted something, then you know that you are dealing with someone who won't put up with it, then it goes away."

Hitachi Data Systems, the storage solutions provider, similarly made Ethisphere's list, and has taken rigorous steps to guarantee its activity is suitably transparent.

"We've set up a solid program with the best proven features, including a global anti-corruption program developed for our operations around the world," said Jack Domme, Hitachi Data Systems' chief executive.

"Having this distinction by an external, independent review benchmarked against companies across industries sets us apart as an industry leader and employer of choice."

The Ethisphere Institute reported members of its cohort have outperformed the S&P index by an average 7.3% a year since 2007, and delivered a 27% return to shareholders over the same period, beating a norm of -8.5%.

"This year we had more nominations for companies based outside of the United States than ever before," added Alex Brigham, its executive director. "We also had more foreign-based companies recognised than ever before."

"This is a positive sign to us, as it indicates that ethics is becoming a serious issue around the world."

These 42 enterprises housed mobile operator Singapore Telecom, Brazilian health and beauty manufacturer Natura Cosmeticos, and Indian real estate group the Housing Development Finance Corporation.

Data sourced from Ethisphere Institute; additional content by Warc staff
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