Poll: Americans Give Corporate America Poor Marks for Honesty, Ethics

As the devastating effects of the economic crisis reverberates across the country, a new survey shows that a majority of Americans believe that the moral compass of Corporate America is pointing in the wrong direction.

The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion recently conducted two surveys of Americans and top level business executives to understand their opinions and reactions to the events which have shaken confidence in businesses.

The survey found that Americans were more likely than business executives to express a negative opinion on the course and practices of Corporate America.

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More than three-quarters of Americans said the moral compass of Corporate America is pointing in the wrong direction, compared to 58 percent of business executives, according to the survey.

A majority of Americans gave corporate America D or F grades for honesty and ethics and rated the country's business leadership as poor while business leaders gave C and B marks for honesty and ethics and believe they are doing a fair job at leading.

When it comes to different sectors of business, both the public and business leaders assigned the lowest marks to the financial and investment industry. Around 53 percent of Americans and two-thirds of executives gave a grade of D or F to the sector for its honesty and ethical conduct.

While a strong majority of Americans (75 percent) and executives (94 percent) believe that one can be successful without compromising their ethics, less than half of Americans (28 percent) and business leaders (44 percent) believe people use the same set of ethical standards in business as they do in their personal lives.

More than three-quarters of both Americans and executives agree that excessive salaries for high level executives and exaggerated claims about products or services are common business practices.

More than 90 percent of Americans and 90 percent of executives see career advancement, personal financial gain, increasing profits, or gaining competitive advantage as the primary factors driving corporate business decisions.

Only an estimated 3 in 10 Americans and executives believe the "public good" is a strong factors into the choices of corporate leaders.

"Today, America faces a serious problem with a financial crisis caused in no small part by greed — the public lacks confidence in our financial system, and in much of 'corporate America,'" commented Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus, which commissioned the survey.

"This confidence cannot and will not be restored until American executives and companies choose to be guided by a moral compass in their business decisions," he remarked. "Only a strong commitment to ethical business practices on the part of executives and the companies they lead can restore America's confidence in its financial system."

The survey also showed that a majority of Americans (75 percent) believe the company's employees and top executives (74 percent) play a major role in upholding high ethical business standards. Nine in 10 executives identified themselves as being primarily accountable for business ethics.

A majority of both groups, however, said religious leaders played either a minor role or no role at all in making sure that Corporate America keeps high ethical business standards.

When asked whether the religious beliefs and values of a corporate executive should influence their business decisions, executives (70 percent) were more likely to agree than Americans (63 percent) that religious beliefs provide a good ethical standard for doing business.

The survey findings were based on two quantitative surveys. One interviewed 2,071 adults nationwide between January 25 through February 3, 2009. The second used the phone or Internet to collect data on corporate executives between January 26 and February 5, 2009.

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