Ethics survey finds Britain’s businesses could behave better

IBE news
17 January 2022


Corporate bosses will need to improve the way their businesses are perceived by the public if they are to survive and thrive with consumer support into another Covid-impacted year.

This is one of the main recommendations to company leaders as the results of the 2021 survey of the British public’s attitudes to business ethics are published by the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE). The findings will be presented and debated by business and ethics experts on Wednesday 19th January 2022.

For the first time in its annual attitudes survey, the IBE asked over 2,000 members of the British public about their views on how ethically business behaves compared to politicians, media and charities. 40% believe that businesses behave ethically, as opposed to 23% for media and 20% for politicians. Charities are rated the most ethical by 67% of the public.

Respondents were also asked to rank by importance a selection of ethical issues that business most needs to address. Tax avoidance and bribery and corruption continue to trouble the British public the most.

The survey – Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics 2021 – was carried out online over the weekend of 19th - 21st November 2021 by market research company Yonder. At that time a worsening gender pay gap, the political fall-out over the handling of migrants and a predicted rise in the cost of living were making headlines.

Commenting on the main findings of the survey, IBE Director Dr Ian Peters MBE says: “Businesses may take some comfort from these findings given the very low public opinion of how the media and politicians behave, but Britain’s bosses still have a lot of catching up to do. This year they should pay greater attention to improving their standing and reputation in today’s society. We know this can be done and does work; when a company puts its good intentions into practice then customers, employers and others notice and respond well.”

Key survey findings
  • Business is the second-most ethical institution. The first time this question has been asked in the survey’s 19-year run; 40% of the public say they think business acts ethically. Much further ahead in the popularity poll are charities (67%). Less well regarded for their ethical behaviours are the media (23%) and politicians (20%).
  • Tax avoidance and bribery and corruption are increasingly among the most important ethical issues to the British public but the environment and climate change continue to be priorities. Corporate tax avoidance is the most important ethical issue for the 9th consecutive year, up 12 percentage points (pp) in 2021 to 47%. Meanwhile, bribery and corruption enters the top 3 for the first time after jumping up 17pp, the biggest move of the year. Businesses’ responsibility for their impact on the environment, including climate change, is now the second-highest concern across all generations at 29%. 
  • The age gap broadens. The disparity between the issues that younger and older people believe most need addressing has broadened this year, as the younger generation highlights issues that reflect newer ethical values. These include equality, diversity and inclusion, and work-life balance.

Dr Peters adds: “Not surprisingly business behaviour has been in the public spotlight during the pandemic. We have seen good and bad examples, but the public remains most concerned about the fundamentals; tax avoidance, bribery and corruption and impact on the environment. Businesses must not lose sight of these key issues as we emerge from the pandemic.

“It seems we can learn a great deal from charities who tend to score highly in popular opinion. They are especially good at telling the stories of lives they have changed. So when a business is applauded for acting responsibly and ethically we should be hearing all about it.”

Dr Ian Peters MBE is available for an interview.

Media contact: Louise Third MBE, Director, Integra Communications Limited
(M) +44 (0) 7773 288342
(O) +44 (0) 115 983 1205

Download the survey here...