by Jason Hensel
Everyone is a watchdog or whistleblower these days thanks to pervasive social media and deep searches on the internet. Companies can no longer hide their worst traits and habits—and this is a good thing. The more ethical big businesses are, the better off the world will be. At least that’s the theory. Whether it’s true or not is for time to judge.
In the meantime, there are quite a few businesses already considered highly ethical, according to the Ethisphere Institute. The organization has awarded its “World’s Most Ethical Companies” designations since 2007.
“The papers are filled with scandals and companies that made judgment errors, that made policy errors or that don’t have good practices in place to handle things like non-retaliation or transparency or open reporting, or have had a crisis and handled it poorly,” Tia Smallwood, Ethisphere’s strategic advisor and executive director of the World’s Most Ethical Companies program, told Forbes
in 2016. “But there are a lot of companies that are really trying to do things the right way.”
In 2016, there were 131 honorees representing 45 industries, including organizations in hospitality and leisure. Hospitality and travel companies on the list include Holland America Line, Marriott International, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., The Rezidor Hotel Group and Wyndham Worldwide.
“We are honored to have been one of the select awardees in nine prior years,” says William Dempster, senior vice president and global compliance counsel at Marriott International. “Further, we prize the prominent public recognition Ethisphere has bestowed on Marriott and the other admired companies for our promotion of principles of corporate social responsibility and adherence to ethical business practices. Ethisphere’s tenet that ‘ethics drives performance’ resonates with us and comports with Marriott’s approach to doing business steadily with integrity.”
According to Ethisphere, companies who are on the list “excel in three areas—promoting ethical business standards and practices internally, enabling managers and employees to make good choices and shaping future industry standards by introducing tomorrow’s best practices today.”
Ethics and Compliance
Ethical behavior and good corporate citizenship are not just the right things to do, they also make good business sense, according to Karen Benson, director of global compliance and ethics for Royal Caribbean.
“Our values—honesty, fairness, integrity and trust—are an essential link to Royal Caribbean’s longstanding success as a company,” she says. “Throughout the years, we have earned the confidence of our employees, guests, shareholders and communities because of our commitment to our core values and ethical culture. No matter our previous accomplishments, we endeavor for ever-improved ethical behavior and integrity.”
Ethisphere’s evaluation of ethical companies begins with a framework of core competences that include “ethics and compliance programs,” “corporate citizenship and responsibility,” “culture of ethics,” “governance” and “leadership, innovation and reputation.” Of these, ethics and compliance programs weigh the most in a company’s self-scoring. Once the questionnaire is complete, there is an independent verification process and a review of supporting documents to ensure a valid ethical score.
For The Rezidor Hotel Group, maintaining a high standard of business ethics and integrity is integral to its operations.
“Being an ethical company lies within Rezidor’s DNA,” says Sven Wiltink, responsible business manager for The Rezidor Hotel Group. “It underscores Rezidor’s commitment to leading ethical business standards and practices, ensuring long-term value to key stakeholders including customers, employees, suppliers, regulators and investors.”
Marriott’s reputation and continued success as a global hospitality leader are grounded in its commitment to service and business integrity and in its application of consistently high standards in everything it does, Dempster says.
“Since the very beginning, a fundamental commitment to hard work, fair business practices and respect for others has shaped our everyday decision making and has guided our relationships with all of our stakeholders—associates, hotel owners, business partners, franchisees, customers and the communities in which we work,” he says. “Our commitment to being a responsible corporate citizen has not changed since 1927. Decisions that do not reflect our fundamental values of integrity, honesty and fairness are contrary to our corporate culture and expectations. Further, they can compromise our competitiveness, lead to significant financial losses and harm our associates.”
From Top to Bottom
A key to building and sustaining an ethical and compliant company is to establish an ethical tone throughout the organization. For example, Rezidor’s principles are governed by a code of business ethics.
“It enables us to take positions on key issues of business ethics with a single voice,” Wiltink says. “The code includes 10 principles, which guide us whenever an ethical decision needs to be made. The code applies to every person who works for us and every one of our companies. All employees are trained in the Code of Business Ethics, its implications and reporting processes. The training occurs in the classroom-based Living Responsible Business course, which is mandatory for all employees.”
Rezidor even offers a website (www.rezidorethics.com
) where employees can report ethical issues.
“This website is run by an independent third-party organization—Ethics Point,” Wiltink says. “Employees can use this site to find information on our Code of Business Ethics and report concerns anonymously.”
With Marriott, there is a tradition of maintaining strong values, respect for law and commitment to global communities.
“At Marriott, our compliance program’s theme is ‘How We Do Business Is as Important as the Business We Do,’” Dempster says. “This motto enunciates our company’s commitment to acting with integrity in all business dealings and complements our well-known ‘Spirit to Serve.’ Our commitment to ethics and integrity can be observed in more than our words and many awards. It is evident in our associates’ deeds and in the tireless actions of our corporate leaders, who continuously drive the company to meet high standards of integrity, honesty, respect, trust and fairness that every Marriott associate can follow and in which all can take pride.”
Ethisphere says it strives “to honor companies based on their body of work and not just one particular policy or program that is groundbreaking or admirable.” And for Royal Caribbean’s Benson, it’s humbling to be recognized among the World’s Most Ethical Companies.
“It is not only about being good at what we do, but how we go about doing it,” she says. “Because this isn’t a top-down honor—this is the kind of award that requires everyone at every level of the company, on ships and on shore, to stay focused on making fairness, integrity, honesty and trust part of our culture. Without our employees’ commitment to high ethical standards, we go nowhere.”
Wiltink says that it’s important to set a guiding light for business interactions, especially in a global environment.
“Being named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies since 2010 gives business ethics internally additional attention and renews our commitment year after year to become even better and stronger in our ethical and social practices across the company and our value chain,” he says. “It is a great recognition of our efforts in creating and maintaining strong corporate compliance standards, governance procedures and an inspiring work environment for our people to thrive and a robust responsible business program that cares for our guests, our people and our planet.”