World's Most Ethical Retail Chains 2007-2016 - Starbucks, Target, Gap

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What are the most ethical retail companies in the world in 2016? According to the annual report from the Ethisphere Institute, there are just 11 retailing companies that deserved to be included on the 2015 “World’s Most Ethical Companies” list and just two U.S. retailers that have been conducting business in an exemplary ethical manner since the annual report on ethics was first released in 2007.

There were 13 retailing companies included on the 2014 Most Ethical list.

 So now that less than a dozen retailing companies in the world are considered to be “ethical,” it might seem that global retailing is in a dark, and unethical downslide, choosing profit over things like corporate responsibility, reputation, and trustworthiness.   But drawing any kind of conclusions the moral trajectory of the world’s largest retailing companies depends on how “ethical” is being defined.  

Creating some kind of quantifiable measurements which determines whether a company is ethical or not 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 just such an ethics measuring methodology. The Ethisphere Institute 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

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.”  

See also:  What Makes a Retailing Company Ethical?

Of the 41 U.S. retail chains that have been recognized for being a “world’s most ethical” company since the Ethisphere Institute annual World’s Most Ethical Companies report was first released in 2007, there is now only one of the largest U.S. retail chains which have been included on the list every year. Because it is the only retailing company (out of 14 companies in any industry) that has been recognized for its high corporate ethical standards every year,  Starbucks can rightfully claim the title, crown and throne as the "Most Ethical Retailing Company in the World."   

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

It’s also worth noticing 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.

 Since Walmart has never found itself in the company of the global companies 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 is 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 ten years.  

What follows is a complete list of all international retail companies and companies with retailing as a significant part of their business which has been recognized as a “World’s Most Ethical Retail Company” between 2007 and 2016. The list is arranged alphabetically, and the dates below each company name indicate each year that the company was recognized for its ethical business.

 Click the links for more information about each individual retailing company.

World’s Most Ethical Retailing Companies 2007 - 2016:

Adidas

2011​

AEON (Japan)

2007

Aldi Group (Germany)
2007​

Aveda
2008​

Best Buy

2012
2011
2010
2009

(Germany)

2009
2008

2012
2007

Dell
2015
2014
2009

eBay
2014
2013
2012

Ford Motor Company
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010

The Gap
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007

Google
2015
2014
2010
2009
2008
2007

2016
2015
2014
2013
2011
2007

Honda (Japan)
2008

IKEA (Sweden)
2010
2009
2008
2007

Kesko (Finland)
2012
2011

Levi Strauss
2016
2015
2014

Marks and Spencer (UK)
2016

2015
2014
2013
2012
2009
2008
2007

McDonald's
2009
2008
2007

Microsoft
2016

2015
2014
2013
2012
2011

Nike
2010
2009
2008
2007

OfficeMax
2013
2012

Otto GmbH & Co (Germany)
2007

Patagonia
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007

Petco
2016

2015
2013
2012

Petro-Canada (Canada)
2008

Safeway
2014
2013
2012
2009

Sherwin-Williams
2013

SONAE (Portugal)
2014
2013
2012
2011

Starbucks
2016

2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007

T-Mobile
2016

2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009

Target
2016
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007

Ten Thousand Villages
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008

The Co-operative Group (UK)
2013
2012
2011

Timberland
2012
2011
2008
2007

Toyota
2009
2007

Trader Joe's
2010
2009
2008

Volvo
2007

Wegmans
2012
2011
2010
2007

Wesfarmers (Australia)
2007

Whole Foods Market
2013
2012
2011
2010
2007

Zappos
2011
2010
2009

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