Three food manufacturers were also recognized this year – The Kellogg Company, PepsiCo and Stonyfield – although General Mills, which was awarded a place last year, did not make the 2012 list. The Ethisphere Institute is a New York City-based research organization and think tank focused on best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability, which has been releasing an annual ethical companies list since 2007.
Competition for the awards has grown in recent years, and this year’s list included a record 145 companies, up from 110 last year. The organization says it aims to reward organizations that show leadership in promoting ethical business standards and it has no limit on the number of companies it selects each year.
Cornel Fuerer, vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer of Solae, told FoodNavigator-USA that he couldn’t speculate on how long it would take before other food ingredient suppliers start to appear on the list, but it is notoriously tough to achieve and maintain recognition, and other companies have contacted Solae to ask how it has attracted the attention of Ethisphere.
“This is a very competitive field…We see ethics as a differentiator,” he said.
Over the past year, the company has strengthened its focus on three areas in particular: Anti-corruption measures, updating its code of conduct, and rewarding employees for their specific contributions to Solae’s ethical platform. In addition to answering a questionnaire on its business practices for the WME list, the company also volunteers information and involves its entire company, from factory workers to the CEO, Fuerer said.
“We would be doing what we are doing with or without this recognition,” he said. “Everyone wants to make sure that when they are buying from someone, that their supplier won’t be in the news for the wrong reason, and I think this is particularly important in the food industry…because it’s something you ingest.”
He added: “It enables us to operate in the countries in which we want to operate. Having a third party backing you up is very helpful.”
Fuerer said that Solae’s standing on the WME list is good for business, and Ethisphere also claims that the most ethical companies tend to have consistently higher returns, when compared to S&P 500 companies.
Executive director of Ethisphere Alex Brigham said: “Each year the competition for World’s Most Ethical Companies intensifies as the number of nominations submitted for consideration grows. This year’s winners know that a strong ethics program is a key component to a successful business model, and they continue to scrutinize their ethical standards to keep up with an ever-changing regulatory environment.”
Ethisphere is not the only organization to claim that a commitment to ethical practices can be beneficial for a company’s bottom line. According to a recent survey from Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, more than two-thirds of consumers will not buy a product if they dislike the values of the company behind the brand.
Three US-based food retail companies were also included on the list this year: Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, and Safeway.