Survey says businesses believe in good corporate citizenship

Monday, July 14th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Recent scandals notwithstanding, companies overwhelmingly believe they should operate ethically and be good corporate citizens, according to a survey of corporate citizenship Monday.

The survey, conducted for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, found that 87 percent of those responding felt it was very important to operate ethically (an additional 11 percent felt it was important), 85 percent felt it was very important to treat employees well, and 81 percent felt it was very important to have safe and reliable products or services.

``Corporations view corporate citizenship as a fundamental part of doing business,'' said Steve Rochlin, research director at the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, which conducted the study.

Many companies have hired ethics officers, who conduct training courses for employees, watch over potential conflicts of interest and work with auditors and boards of directors to make sure the balance sheets are accurate.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader said the survey was meaningless.

``They should have released this self-serving survey for April Fool's Day,'' Nader said. ``It's like asking a company, `Do you believe in being good?' Who's going to say no?''

The survey of 515 companies had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It was the first-ever study that looked at both small and large companies.

Survey officials said they planned to do similar studies every two years to see how corporate attitudes change.

They acknowledged the results contrasted with conventional wisdom in the aftermath of scandals at Enron Corp., Worldcom and other companies. In response, Congress passed legislation to crack down on business fraud, tighten regulation of companies' financial reporting and provide new oversight of independent auditors.

``Certainly there are corporations that have not practiced good corporate citizenship,'' said Joseph Kasputys, chairman of the Hitachi Foundation, which funded the study. ``The corporate scandals have given business generally a bad reputation. But this survey shows most corporations are really doing something positive.''

Nader said the U.S. chamber is trying to change the subject away from corporate wrongdoing.

``They want to put all these abuses and scandals behind them instead of saying to the companies in the survey, `Why don't you just obey the law?''' Nader said.