Ethisphere announced its 2021 list of World’s Most Ethical Companies today, and corporate ethics and compliance officers know what that means: a barrage of emails from the CEO and board asking, “Why aren’t WE on that list???”

This year Ethisphere honored 135 companies from 22 countries and across 47 industries. We can’t name all 135 here (the complete list is on the Ethisphere website), but that is four more than the 131 honored in 2020. We should also note the six companies that have been on the WME Companies list all 15 years of its existence. They are:

  • Aflac
  • Ecolab
  • International Paper Co.
  • Kao Corp.
  • Milliken & Co.
  • Pepsico

Fluor Corp., which had been on the list every year prior, wasn’t among the privileged few this year. Maybe the company didn’t make the cut; maybe it decided not to participate this year. I don’t know. Regardless, that short list of annual winners is a bit shorter this year. 

Who’s new to the list in 2021? Nine companies, as follows:

  • Avon Products
  • Charoen Pokphand Group 
  • Frontera Energy Corp.
  • Hanesbrands
  • Hubbell Inc.
  • Infosys
  • Lonza Group
  • Hellenic Telecommunications Organization
  • Unum
  • Workday

Ethisphere compiles its World’s Most Ethical list by having companies complete a detailed survey of their ethical values, business practices, corporate governance, and the like. I’m not privy to all the details the survey solicits, but this year Ethisphere did incorporate questions related to the pandemic, social justice, diversity, and other ESG factors. 

That generates a lot of data worth studying, and typically Ethisphere publishes one or more reports based on that information. No such reports are available right now, but we’ll watch to see what Ethisphere might release later in the year.

For cynics out there who say devotion to ethics doesn’t bring any extra financial return, please note that Ethisphere calculated what it calls “the Ethics Premium” — the stock performance of WME 2021 winners over the last five years, versus a general large cap index over the same five years. This year’s winners outperformed that large-cap average group by 7.1 percent. 

The WME companies will be feted at a virtual reception Ethisphere is hosting on April 20. Congratulations to all the winners, and here’s hoping that in the near future we can all gather and discuss their compliance programs in person.

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