Institute of Business Ethics calls for business and politicians to address ethical concerns of the British public

IBE news
29 June 2022


Businesses and UK politicians must do better at demonstrating their ethical credentials if they are to win back the confidence of the British public. 

This is one of the main recommendations as the results of the 2022 survey of the British public’s attitudes to business ethics is published by the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE). Although there has been a slight improvement in public perception of business since the 2021 survey, 42% of respondents still feel negatively towards the way business is conducted.

Corporate bosses can take some comfort from the survey of over 2000 members of the British public which was carried out online between 16th and 17th May 2022. Despite business achieving a 44% positive response, just 17% of those polled believe politicians behave ethically, down 3 percentage points since the 2021 poll. Even the media fares better than politicians, having improved in public perception by 2%. However, all three institutions have a long way to go to catch up with charities, judged to be ethical by 74% of the public.

Commenting on the main findings of the survey, IBE Director Dr Ian Peters MBE says: “The improvement in public perception of business culture is welcome but it is small. Business leaders must be more transparent in demonstrating and reporting how they are addressing the areas still troubling the public”.

On the comparison in attitudes to other sectors Dr Peters added:
“Our political leaders are doing us no favours in the behaviour they demonstrate. The business community, and society as a whole, expect and deserve better role models in government.”

Respondents were also asked to select the top three ethical issues that business most needs to address. For the 10th consecutive year, corporate tax avoidance remains the biggest concern. Surprisingly, only 24% of the public include environment and climate change in their top 3 ethical concerns, compared with 29% last year.

The survey – Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics 2022 – was carried out as interest rates were increased to tackle the rising level of inflation, the war in eastern Europe was contributing to the threat of food scarcity, and households were braced for a significant hike in fuel bills.

According to survey director Professor Chris Cowton, the findings appear to have thrown up a possible polarisation of attitudes.
“This year, for each institution, the percentage of ‘no opinion’ responses has dropped. So although the attitudes towards business have improved, the proportion of people who view business as behaving unethically remains at 42%. The public is increasingly split down the middle.”

Key survey findings

  • Public perception of how ethically business behaves has improved
    44% of the British public believe that business behaves ethically, compared to 40% in 2021. Public opinion has improved for all institutions – except politicians who languish at the bottom with a 17% rating.
  • Tax avoidance and bribery and corruption remain among the most important ethical issues to the British public
    Corporate tax avoidance is the most important ethical issue for the 10th consecutive year, at 47%, with bribery and corruption at 27%. However on environmental responsibility – still an important concern – attitudes have improved. 24% of respondents compared with 29% in 2021. 
  • Gender gap on bullying and harassment reflects post-Covid return to work
    The gender gap for harassment and bullying has increased to 6 percentage points, with 12% of men and 18% of women citing this as a concern, perhaps driven by an increase in concern on the part of women consistent with a gradual return to the workplace.
  • Generational gap narrows as all age groups share top concern
    A dramatic narrowing of the gap between the youngest and oldest generations for corporate tax avoidance from 20% to just 4% this year, implies this issue will be of greatest concern across the ages for some time to come.

Dr Peters adds: “Society’s attitude towards the culture and values of business, and other institutions, reflects their immediate concerns. People are worried about their own levels of pay, their ability to cope as inflation eats into their spending power, and the impact of a hybrid working life on employment prospects and potential inequalities this can throw up. 

“So businesses need to engage in a new and clearer conversation with the public, not only to justify price rises and how they handle wage reviews but also to demonstrate that they are living out the values they claim their companies believe in.”

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...