Frequently Asked Questions

The World’s Most Ethical Companies – Overview

In 2006, Ethisphere launched the World’s Most Ethical Companies® recognition program to measure and showcase the superior achievements of organizations that are committed to doing business with ethics and integrity. The process is rigorous and objective. It includes a 200-point assessment, documentation review, and research into an organization’s reputation and ethical practices. The process itself provides a way for organizations to assess their own programs against leading practices. World’s Most Ethical Companies honorees also enjoy recognition of their exceptional ethics and compliance programs. Ethisphere also broadly shares the World’s Most Ethical Companies data to help all organizations understand and improve programs.
This is the 16th year Ethisphere has honored organizations with the designation of World’s Most Ethical Companies®.
Yes. We evaluate an organization’s (i) Ethics and Compliance Program, (ii) Culture of Ethics, (iii) Corporate Citizenship and Responsibility, (iv) Governance, and (v) Leadership and Reputation. Each category is evaluated through a combination of answers to our Ethics Quotient® (EQ) questionnaire, submitted supplemental documentation, and where necessary, independent research and follow up with a candidate. Evaluation of the Leadership and Reputation category also includes a review of publicly available information with a bearing on an organization’s reputation for acting ethically (e.g., public filings, regulatory activity, media review).
An organization’s final Ethics Quotient (EQ) score is evaluated relative to those of its peers within the context of its structure, size, and operating environment. Those organizations demonstrating the strongest application across our methodology receive the designation of being one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies. As applicant organizations come from a variety of industries with significant differences in regulatory and operating environments, the overall EQ score is used to understand an organization’s performance in context of similar organizations, not to set a floor. However, reputation and legal issues are carefully evaluated. Receiving a materially deficient score in the category of Leadership and Reputation will prevent an organization from being selected as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.
Completing the World’s Most Ethical Companies process is considered to be extremely valuable by past participants, regardless of the recognition that may or may not come from it. The application process enables organizations to understand the elements of an effective program and to also compare their approach to leading practices. It also provides opportunities for ethics and compliance teams to collaborate with other key stakeholders across business functions and work together to answer certain questions.

Upon completing the process, applicants receive a scorecard which outlines their evaluation scores as they compare to honorees. Companies have found this information to be valuable for establishing priorities, celebrating their strengths, building a business case for additional budget, and focusing their teams. The scorecard also includes exclusive data and insights only available to applicants, and links to valuable, curated resources to help improve their programs.

In addition to the scorecard, applicants who are not members of Ethisphere’s Business Ethics Leadership Alliance (BELA)¬¬ will receive a three-month Associate level membership, enabling participation in a member roundtable and providing access to the member hub featuring organization-contributed materials, and exclusive research, masterclasses, reports and more.

BELA is a community of global organizations that collaborate on best practices for ethics, compliance, and governance made up of more than 340 members and their teams.

Applicants who are BELA members also receive a scorecard with exclusive insights and data comparing their scores to those of honorees, along with a more in-depth benchmarking that provides further insights and guidance.

Applicants with exceptional program elements may also be selected to be featured in Ethisphere Magazine and other Ethisphere platforms, such as our Global Ethics Summit.

Whether an organization applies or not, a robust ethics and compliance program is good business. Our years of data shows that those with strong programs in place outperform, which we call the Ethics Premium. Investors understand this, and importantly, employees, customers and other stakeholders value working with organizations rooted in integrity.

The World’s Most Ethical Companies – Who Should Apply?

Any organization, public or private, for-profit or not-for-profit, U.S. or foreign based, is eligible to participate in the process and be considered for designation as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.

That said, the Ethics Quotient questionnaire and peer group is generally designed for those organizations with over $250 million in revenue. This does not mean that smaller organizations cannot benefit from the process or be designated as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies, but rather that our process is not suitable for many smaller organizations unless they have the type of programs in place typically seen at larger organizations.

Please note that while our process has broad eligibility requirements, non-profit colleges and universities, governments, governmental agencies, government majority owned organizations, and NGOs are not eligible. If you have a question regarding eligibility, please contact Ethisphere at [email protected]

We encourage wide participation, regardless of whether an organization thinks that it will be honored. All organizations that submit a survey will receive an Analytical Scorecard that provides their overall Ethics Quotient and evaluates how their score in each of the five categories compares to those of honorees. The value in participating is not only in learning how one’s organization compares to the honorees, but also in better understanding what’s trending in leading organizations and more about their best practices.

An organization’s industry, size, geographic location, etc. are all taken into consideration during the review process. An organization’s final Ethics Quotient (EQ) score is evaluated relative to those of its peers, within the context of its structure, size and operating environment. While we evaluate applicants within the context of their peers, we have minimum expectations for all organizations, regardless of size or industry when designating the World’s Most Ethical Companies. Accordingly, regardless of size, for-profit organizations will be compared to organizations with at least $250 million (USD) in revenue and non-profit organizations to those with at least $1 billion (USD) in revenue.
We understand that practices can be different for public, private, and non-profit organizations. Private organizations and non-profits are not penalized for failing to follow certain guidelines that are expected for public organizations. However, all organizations must demonstrate that their policies, procedures, and practices are best in class for their specific organization type.

Application Process – Ethics Quotient Survey

Ethisphere’s proprietary Ethics Quotient®, the World’s Most Ethical Companies assessment process includes more than 200 multiple-choice and free-form questions on ethical culture, environmental and social practices, ethics and compliance activities, governance, leadership, diversity, and initiatives to support a strong value chain.

Applicants are able to download the questionnaire in advance of entering details into the survey platform so that they can prepare responses and gather information from other sources within the organization.

The EQ questionnaire is jointly developed by our internal team of legal and compliance professionals, feedback provided by previous applicants, and our Methodology Advisory Panel. Advisory Panel members include leading experts from the fields of law, corporate reputation, corporate ethics, governance, and anti-corruption.

We review the questionnaire annually to ensure that it aligns with the ever-changing expectations of employees, managers, shareholders, regulators, and the public at large.

No. Each section, question, and answer choice is individually weighted. Certain sections carry more importance than others, as do certain questions.
We believe strongly that measurement matters. Utilizing the questionnaire allows us to include substantial quantitative and objective analysis in our process. The questionnaire is one step of our three-step review process.

The first step is for an organization to complete the Ethics Quotient (EQ) questionnaire. This results in an objective self-reported EQ score. Companies then submit documentation that allows us to qualitatively evaluate aspects of an organization’s programs and processes.

Lastly, Ethisphere’s team of analysts researches each organization’s history of litigation, reputation, and ethical track record to inform the score for the organization’s Leadership and Reputation. The self-reported scores are combined with the qualitative assessment of an applicant organization’s supplemental documentation and independent research to produce a final EQ score.

Application Process – Reputation Evaluation

Our evaluation of an organization’s reputation looks carefully at the perception of the organization’s brand among stakeholders. We give an applicant credit for third-party recognitions indicating positive stakeholder perception. For example, we consider awards and accolades garnered as well as inclusion on indices related to governance, ethics and compliance, culture, environmental practices, citizenship, or social responsibility.

We off-set the credit given for third-party recognitions with any negative reputational issues faced by an applicant. Specifically, we conduct a review of publicly available information (e.g., public filings and the Dow Jones Factiva business information and research tool) to understand any negative perceptions caused by an applicant’s legal compliance, litigation, environmental, or other ethical issues. This review has a five-year look-back period.

Ethisphere bases its timing for the look-back period on the timing of an issue’s resolution. For example, if the conduct occurred in 2005, but the issue is settled in 2020, Ethisphere would consider the relevant timing to be 2020 for purposes of the five-year look-back period.

While evaluation of any particular issue is necessarily objective, Ethisphere considers the following factors in its evaluation: (i) how long-ago the conduct at issue occurred and when it was resolved, (ii) the seriousness of the conduct or issue, (iii) actions taken by the applicant to address the issue, and (iv) how the issue impacts the applicant’s reputation. If the issue is severe enough, it alone can exclude an organization from being included on the World’s Most Ethical Companies List. In such a case, we will fully score the applicant’s submission and provide the Analytical Scorecard and feedback. We will also inform the applicant that, regardless of its performance within our evaluation process, the reputational issue precludes it from being included as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.

Given the necessary subjectivity of this reputational evaluation, we are happy to answer any questions you may have at WMEApplicat[email protected].

Application Process – Documentation

While our evaluation process begins with the objective scoring based on responses to the Ethics Quotient (EQ), our review does not end there. We also request applicants submit documentation to allow us to subjectively evaluate certain aspects of their program. The type of information submitted provides us an understanding of the program beyond answers to the EQ. For example, the EQ asks questions about modalities of communications; the supporting documentation goes further and allows us to evaluate the quality of the communications.

EQ scores are adjusted based on documentation review and independent research. Each candidate then receives a final score that may be higher or lower than the initial “self-reported” score. Note that if we are unable to evaluate certain aspects of performance (i.e., requested documentation is not submitted), the resulting scores may be discounted.

We supply a list of recommended documents in the Supplemental Documentation Guidelines provided to each applicant. As explained therein, applicants are expected to provide documents and evidence to support their responses to the Ethics Quotient questionnaire. Ethisphere will only contact an applicant regarding its supporting documentation if no documentation associated with the applicant organization is received (this is to ensure there was not a problem in delivering or transmitting the documentation) or if there is a technical issue with particular files or documents. If an applicant is missing a specific document or documents, Ethisphere will not contact the applicant, nor will the applicant receive any points associated with review of such documents.

While Ethisphere will not contact an applicant except as specified above, new this year, each applicant will have a portal that will indicate whether documents have been received. Assuming an applicant submits documents as instructed, the portal will indicate whether documents have been received for each category.

Application Process – General Questions

The World’s Most Ethical Companies® evaluation is an annual exercise. Each year’s evaluation process considers organization programs information at the time it is submitted by the applicant and considers reputational information available up to December 31st of the year being reviewed. For example, the 2022 evaluation considers reputational information available up to December 31, 2021.

All materials are due on or before Friday, November 12 at 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.

We don’t publicly disclose the total number of applicants each year. We established this policy so that organizations have the freedom to apply and be measured against others in total confidence and so that those who are honored recognize that their programs are being measured both competitively and on their own merits.
Past honorees are given no inherent advantage over non-honorees or organizations applying for the first time. Typically, organizations that have participated in the evaluation process in previous years (both honorees and non-honorees) are more familiar with the expectations and therefore better prepared when it comes to completing the questionnaire and submitting supporting documentation.
Applicants trust us to keep all analysis and results of each organization confidential. We take that responsibility seriously.

We do not disclose the names of organizations who are not honored, and no individual response is made public. Scores will only be used to calculate EQ scores and/or provide a report or analysis to an organization. We also use EQ scores and responses in an aggregated or anonymized fashion for benchmarking and research purposes.

Additionally, honorees may not publicly share or reference their organization’s scores or performance compared to the World’s Most Ethical Companies’ averages. Our purpose is to celebrate all of the organizations equally; accordingly, we very intentionally do not rank the organizations that make the list each year. Sharing information or referring to the scores necessarily leads to a comparison among the honoree organizations. Also, the selection process compares organizations to their peers. Without context, publicizing how an organization fares against the average scores misrepresents our process and could cause confusion.

A real benefit to participating in the Ethics Quotient (EQ) process is that all participants, whether or not they’re honored, receive a scorecard featuring a high-level analysis with their overall EQ score and how their five category scores compare to those who are honored as that year’s World’s Most Ethical Companies. This is an important and valued outcome of the process, since many organizations are looking to move forward both in compliance activities and ethical corporate behavior. This independent review allows an organization to compare itself not just to any group of organizations that want to complete a survey, but to those who excel and are named as the World’s Most Ethical Companies.
Companies that submit the Ethics Quotient (EQ) survey and supporting documentation between August 10, 2021, and November 12, 2021, are considered for inclusion in the World’s Most Ethical Companies recognition program for 2022. However, organizations that would like to participate in the EQ—with the opportunity to be benchmarked against honored organizations—may do so throughout the year, at any time.

Fees

Beginning in 2015, Ethisphere instituted a processing fee in order to, at least partially, cover the administrative costs of gathering and analyzing the data. The $3,500 USD fee also allows us to provide each participant with their benchmarked scores and best practices that helps to inform their programs and future decisions. To further offset the application fee, we have also began including a three-month BELA Associate membership to non-members, as well as additional benefits to existing BELA members.
There are no additional fees to be honored or communicate either internally or externally that an organization has achieved this designation. However, organizations that wish to use the year-specific World’s Most Ethical Companies logo must license the logo and follow the branding guidelines. Ethisphere developed these guidelines in coordination with the Ethisphere community and by examining best practices from other organizations that review and recognize organizations. Once licensed, the logo for that year may be used in perpetuity without additional fee.

About Ethisphere

No, the World’s Most Ethical Companies selection process is unbiased. As an ethics and compliance organization, we are very conscious of conflicts of interest and use our methodology to quantity recognition as much as possible. Organizations are honored for their programs, practices, policies, and reputations as measured by the Ethics Quotient methodology.
Our mission is to define and advance the standards of ethical business practices that fuel corporate character, marketplace trust, and business success. We have a deep expertise in measuring and defining core ethical standards using data-driven insights that help organizations enhance corporate character. We believe that this recognition program is important because corporate ethical standards must be set and measured and those who excel should be honored.
Ethisphere receives revenue from conferences, event sponsorships, subscriptions to publications, advertising, membership groups, advisory services, and licensing. No organization that is honored with the World’s Most Ethical Companies designation is responsible for more than 1.3% of Ethisphere’s revenue. And no honoree may place advertising in the issue of Ethisphere Magazine that announces and highlights new honorees.

Honorees

No. We evaluate every organization independently and then in comparison to peers within the context of structure, size and operating environment. Because we’re recognizing organizations that are the “most ethical” and not merely “ethical,” there is a natural limit to the number that we honor both in total and by sector. The number can vary based upon the ever-increasing expectations of stakeholders (both internal and external) and the fact that the scoring process is updated to reflect changes in best practice and methodology.
There are 135 organizations spanning 22 countries and 47 industry sectors on the 2021 list.
We strive to honor organizations based on their body of work and not just one particular policy or program that is groundbreaking or admirable. Likewise, we don’t believe that one particular controversy, settlement, fine, regulatory action, or lawsuit necessarily disqualifies an organization from being honored. That being said, these outcomes are taken into consideration during the evaluation time frame. How organizations prepare employees for ethical dilemmas, how they respond to unethical or illegal actions once uncovered, and their general culture and policies are also considered in our evaluation.