What Are America’s Most Ethical Companies for 2014?

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By Patrick Coffee Comment

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Management consulting firm Ethisphere just released its “Most Ethical Companies” list for 2014. While the firm’s scoring and methodology page explains that this is not a perfectly definitive list, it’s still a group that most everyone would like their clients to join.

Honorees were chosen by an advisory panel tasked with reviewing each company’s compliance record, reputation, internal governance practices, CSR efforts and culture via both self-reported applications and outside research.

The list includes 144 companies from 41 industries around the world. They aren’t all household names, and the list does not rank them or inform the reader as to exactly how each individual business earned the distinction. But we’ve picked a few American companies that stood out to us after the jump, starting with the ones you’ll recognize.

  • Google
  • GAP
  • PepsiCo
  • Levi’s
  • Ford
  • Starbucks
  • Visa
  • T-Mobile
  • UPS
  • eBay
  • Marriott International
  • Time Warner, Inc.
  • General Electric
  • Aflac
  • Colgate-Palmolive
  • Hasbro
  • Xerox
  • Dell
  • Accenture
  • Salesforce
  • Microsoft
  • National Grid
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Kellogg
  • International Paper
  • The Cleveland Clinic
  • 3M
  • The Hartford Financial Services, Inc.
  • Thomson Reuters
  • Safeway
  • PetCo
  • Cisco Systems

It’s a large and varied group to say the least. Ethisphere defines the winners as companies “that truly go beyond making statements about doing business “ethically” and translate those words into action.”

But what does that mean? As Forbes notes, Ethisphere is a for-profit business that makes most of its money from companies paying to sponsor events like the two-day conference that will celebrate the 144 companies on this list. More than 600 companies applied to be included, answering questions about internal risk management and related issues.

More important are the methods Ethisphere uses to disqualify companies: they track lawsuits and corporate malfeasance through a Thomson Reuters news database and scan anonymous internal reviews on sites like Glassdoor. That’s one reason why Target, Macy’s, Walmart and McDonald’s didn’t make an appearance this year. You may also note that some of the businesses best known for their respective CSR efforts and charity work (TOMS, etc.) aren’t on the list. And while top brand Google maintains at least one ethics team, publishes details of its compliance efforts in the name of transparency and recently announced efforts to protect users from NSA data collection activities, we can’t say the last twelve months have been particularly flattering for the company.

The big question, then: how important are lists like this one, and how much value should we assign to them beyond the inevitable flood of press releases?

Color us skeptical.

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