Fortune 500® Companies: A Special Report on Ethical Leadership

The Ethics Resource Center just published a new study of ethical practices within Fortune 500® companies.  Some of the intriguing findings include:

  • 60% of Fortune 500® companies had a comprehensive ethics and compliance program as compared to 41% of all companies

  • 16% Fortune 500® employees felt pressured to compromise job standards, as compared with 13% of all US companies

  • 52% reported misconduct over the past year, compared to 45% of all US companies

    • 59% at private companies

    • 50% at publicly-traded companies

  • leadership makes a difference:  it is 89% where management has a weak commitment to ethics compared to 48% with a strong management commitment

  • kickbacks, improper payments, and brides are higher in Fortune 500® companies as compared to the US average of 10%

    • Fortune 500® companies 13%

    • privately-held Fortune 500® companies 18%

  • 74% of Fortune 500® company employees formally report misconduct (most often to direct manager).  This compares to 65% of all US workers.

    • top 3 most reported forms of misconduct include:

      • bribes to clients 79%

      • delivering goods not up to specifications 79%

      • bribes to public officials 77%

    • bottom 3 least reported forms of misconduct include:

      • inappropriate social networking 49%

      • internet abuse 42%

      • doing personal business on company time 38%–interestingly this is the most common form of misconduct yet it is not always reported

    • 71% who report say that their reports were substantiated by their company

Based on these findings, I believe there are three simple lessons for leaders

  1. establish a strong ethics program and culture–policy, communication, compliance, reporting, and support– in all aspects of the organization; it is a core business function 

  2. investigate all reports and treat employees fairly

  3. re-commit to ethical business practices with regards to quality, gifts, and employee relationships

To learn more and get a copy of the report, visit

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