World's Most Ethical Retail Chains

Best Global Retail Ethics, Responsibility, Governance, Reputation, Leadership

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What are the most ethical retail companies in the world? According to an annual report from the Ethisphere Institute, only a handful of retailing companies deserve to be included on the Institute's “World’s Most Ethical Companies” list. 

Given all the retailing companies in the world and the few that make the list, it might seem that global retailing is in a dark and unethical downslide. Are they choosing profit over things like corporate responsibility, reputation, and trustworthiness?

Drawing any kind of conclusions about the moral trajectory of the world’s largest retailing companies depends on how “ethical” is defined.  

The Definition of "Ethical" 

Creating some kind of quantifiable measurements to determine whether a company is ethical is tricky business, but the Ethisphere Institute used a committee comprised of attorneys, professors, government officials, organization leaders, and, of course, Ethisphere members to create such an ethics measuring methodology. The Institute's think tank believes that company ethics can and should be measured in seven categories:

  • Corporate citizenship and responsibility
  • Corporate governance
  • Innovation that contributes to the public well-being
  • Industry leadership
  • Executive leadership and tone from the top
  • Legal, regulatory and reputation track record
  • Internal systems and ethics/compliance program

A Profile of Ethical Companies 

Are the world’s most popular retailing companies also the most ethical retailers in the world?

It probably depends on who you ask. If you ask the Ethisphere Institute, the answer is “definitely not.”  

Of the U.S. retail chains that have been recognized for being a “world’s most ethical” company since the Ethisphere Institute's annual report was first released in 2007, only one of the largest U.S. retail chains has been included on the list every year through 2017.

It's the only retailing company in any industry that has consistently been recognized for its high corporate ethical standards every year. Starbucks can rightfully claim this title as the "Most Ethical Retailing Company in the World."   

The Gap fell off the 2016 and 2017 Most Ethical lists after being included for the first nine years. No specific explanation is given for the Gap's disappearance from the list. In general, its policies and practices just didn't measure up well enough to beat out other companies—which are apparently more ethical this year.  

It’s also worth noting which of the world’s largest retailing companies are absent from the annual Most Ethical list. The statement that “Walmart is not the most ethical company in the world” is more than just a glib characterization. Walmart has never found itself in the company of those judged to have the best combination of corporate citizenship, legal and regulatory reputation, ethical executive leadership, and innovation that contributes to public well-being. The Ethisphere Institute would say there's quantifiable evidence that proves that Walmart is verifiably not the most ethical company in the world, nor has it been for at least the last 11 years.

The World’s Most Ethical Retailing Companies 2007—2017

What follows is a complete list of all international retail companies, as well as companies with retailing as a significant part of their businesses, which have been recognized as a “World’s Most Ethical Retail Company” at any time between 2007 and 2017. The list is arranged alphabetically and the dates beside each company name indicate the year or years the company was recognized for its ethical business practices.

You can click on some of the links for more information about each individual retailing company.

  • Adidas: 2011​
  • AEON (Japan): 2007
  • Aldi Group (Germany): 2007​
  • Aveda: 2008​
  • Best Buy: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009
  • Best Buy (Germany): 2009, 2008, 2012, 2007
  • CA Technologies: 2017
  • Colgate-Palmolive Company: 2017
  • Dell: 2017, 2015, 2014, 2009
  • Delphi Automotive PLC (UK): 2017
  • eBay: 2014, 2013, 2012
  • Ford Motor Company: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 
  • The Gap: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007
  • GE: 2017
  • Google: 2015, 2014, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007
  • H&M Hennes & Mauritz (Sweden): 2017
  • HASBRO, Inc.: 2017
  • Honda (Japan): 2008
  • IKEA (Sweden): 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007
  • Kao Corporation (Japan): 2017
  • Kellogg Company: 2017
  • Kesko (Finland): 2012, 2011, 
  • Levi Strauss: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014
  • L'OREAL (France): 2017
  • Marks and Spencer (UK): 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2009, 2008, 2007
  • McDonald's: 2009, 2008, 2007
  • Microsoft: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011
  • Nike: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007
  • OfficeMax: 2013, 2012
  • Oshlosh Corporation: 2017
  • Otto GmbH & Co (Germany): 2007
  • Patagonia: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007
  • PepsiCo: 2017
  • Petco: 2016, 2015, 2013, 2012
  • Petro-Canada (Canada): 2008
  • Safeway: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2009
  • Sherwin-Williams: 2013
  • SONAE (Portugal): 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011
  • Starbucks: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007
  • T-Mobile: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 
  • Target: 2017, 2016, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007
  • Ten Thousand Villages: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008
  • Texas Instruments: 2017 
  • The Co-operative Group (UK): 2013, 2012, 2011
  • Timberland: 2012, 2011, 2008, 2007
  • Toyota: 2009, 2007
  • Trader Joe's: 2010, 2009, 2008
  • VF Corporation: 2017
  • Volvo: 2017, 2007
  • Wegmans: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2007
  • Wesfarmers (Australia): 2007
  • Whole Foods Market: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2007
  • Zappos: 2011, 2010, 2009