The Ethisphere Institute is a think-tank organization that focuses on business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability.  Since 2007, Ethisphere has published a list of the world’s most ethical companies and this year, 140 companies, including 43 international companies, made the list.

Of the 140 businesses recognized as the 2013 World’s Most Ethical Companies (WME), 23 have received this honor every year since the WME was first published in 2007 including Aflac, American Express, General Electric, Patagonia and Starbucks.

Starbucks was the only company in the restaurants and cafes category to make the list this year.  Starbucks is used to being the spotlight of this industry, though.  The last time another restaurant or cafe was recognized as one of the world’s most ethical companies was in 2009 when McDonald’s joined Starbucks on the list.  

Aflac is another company that deserves recognition for being an industry standout.  Although it was one of 10 insurance companies that made the 2013 WME list, it is the only insurance company that has made the list for seven consecutive years.

In a statement released on March 6, Aflac chairman and CEO Dan Amos said, "We are always proud to be part of Ethisphere's World's Most Ethical Companies list because it is the best endorsement of our belief that ethics and profits go hand in hand. At Aflac, we believe that treating policyholders and shareholders with honesty and integrity is just as important as the peace of mind that our policies deliver to our customers."  

Each year since 2007, the Ethisphere Institute contacts nominated companies to request a completed Ethics Quotient Survey.  The survey is comprehensive; three dozen pages of questions about the company itself, company leadership and more.

For example, if a member of leadership was named in a class-action lawsuit, was under government investigation or was a defendant in a serious civil action then it must be disclosed to Ethisphere.  

Once the completed surveys are received, Institute staffers begin a comprehensive research and data analysis process.  Ultimately an Ethics Quotient (EQ) Score will be assigned to each company.  The score is weighted as follows:

  • Ethics and Compliance Program – 25 percent
  • Corporate Citizenship and Responsibility – 25 percent
  • Culture of Ethics – 20 percent
  • Reputation, Leadership and Innovation – 20 percent
  • Governance – 10 percent
Ethical business practices don’t just earn a business a spot on Ethisphere’s list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies, these practices can also help in the long-term success of a business.  Companies that are committed to the standards set by the Ethisphere Institute are likely to attract and retain the most talented employees.  

According to the 2012 Net Impact What Workers Want Survey (PDF), 55 percent of surveyed professionals were in a job where they could make a direct social or environmental impact.  These employees were more satisfied with their job, by a 2:1 ratio, than their peers that did not have an impact job.  A satisfied employee is a productive employee and happy, productive employees contribute to a company’s success.

Corporate social responsibility, ethical business practices and sustainability goals don’t just attract the best employees, they also attract customers.  In the second annual Do Well Do Good Public Opinion Survey on Sustainability (PDF), 83 percent of consumers think companies should accomplish business goals while improving society and the environment.  

For a complete list of this year’s winners, visit the Ethisphere Institute’s list of the 2013 World’s Most Ethical Companies.

Starbucks and Aflac: Two of the world's most ethical companies
140 companies were named to Ethisphere's list of the World's Most Ethical Companies 2013.