The public has major concerns about corporate ethics, according to the Public Affairs Pulse survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International and sponsored by the Public Affairs Council. While 96 percent say it’s important for companies to make sure their employees behave ethically, only 10 percent have a lot of trust and confidence that major companies will do what’s right.

Only 7 percent of Americans think CEOs are highly ethical. Middle-management and 
regular employees, on the other hand, get much better ratings for trustworthiness.

Sectors with the most favorable scores for trustworthiness are manufacturing, technology and large retailing. Those viewed least favorably are pharmaceuticals and health insurance.

In the same vein, the public believes community service and social responsibility often take a back seat to corporate profits. Most Americans have high expectations for the business sector to make a positive difference in the world by protecting the environment (93 percent), contributing to charities (88 percent) and taking a leadership role in helping society in ways that go beyond operating a business (85 percent).

Nearly all Americans (98 percent) say that if they were the CEO of a big company facing burdensome laws and regulations they would take some sort of political action. Eighty-four percent would personally contact their elected representatives to express their concerns and the same number would work with other companies to convince government to make changes.

Two-thirds would ask their employees to contact elected officials to voice their concerns about laws and regulations and 54 percent would make political contributions to candidates whose views align with theirs. And almost half — 48 percent — say they would hire a lobbyist.

Despite public doubts about corporate lobbying, support for lobbying rises when people feel it is being done for the right reasons. These reasons include:

  • To protect jobs (80 percent)
  • To open new markets (72 percent)
  • To create a level playing field with competitors (71 percent)
  • To reduce business costs (58 percent)

“This means companies need to take the time to explain to employees and customers why they are involved in politics,” says Public Affairs Council president Doug Pinkham. “When people hear the business reasons, they are more likely to associate lobbying with smart strategy — and they are more likely to be supportive.”