City bonuses a "major ethical concern" for Britons

01 December 2014 -


IBE survey reveals that extravagant pay deals and corporate tax swerves are high on the agenda as issues that the public wants bosses to tackle

Jermaine Haughton

Excessive salaries for City executives and corporate tax avoidance are once again among the leading concerns that members of the public have with the behaviour of big business, according to a new survey from the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE). Conducted on an annual basis, the IBE’s poll shows that 34% of respondents think that executive pay is a top priority for businesses to address, while tax avoidance has held a place in the Top Two concerns for the three years in a row.

Exploitative labour is a growing concern, having risen by three percentage points this year – a shift that is likely to have stemmed from increased public awareness of the issue, via media coverage of the Modern Slavery Bill’s progress through Parliament. Just one quarter of the public thinks that businesses work more ethically today than they did 10 years ago. A 36% segment said that they think behaviour is about the same, while an equal proportion felt that companies are less ethical than they were a decade ago – all in all, not a glowing reflection of progress in this arena.

Interestingly, gender played a role in respondents’ perceptions, with 61% of women rating companies as either “very” or “fairly” ethical, compared to 55% of men. Taking social class into account, respondents earmarked as lower middle class, middle class or upper middle class hold more positive views of business behaviour than those who are either working class, or at the lowest level of subsistence. In generational terms, more baby boomers – ie, those in the 55-or-over age bracket – have faith that British business ethics have improved over last year, while Generation X (35-to-54 year-olds) has dramatically lost confidence, to the tune of a 10% drop.

For IBE director Philippa Foster Back CBE, the findings prove that businesses still have plenty of work to do to gain public support. “Businesses need to listen to the public’s concerns about their behaviour and ensure that they address them,” she said, “or they will lose the fragile trust that has been regained [among the 25% who felt there had been improvements]. Consideration must be made of the opinion of the younger generations and those of the working classes who are experiencing business behaviour differently.”

For more on these issues, sign up to CMI’s forthcoming MoralDNA masterclass, set to take place on 12 January.

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