Global Business Ethics

Ensuring business integrity wherever we are located in the world requires understanding of global workplace ethics issues.

Ellen Martin, Boeing Company

It was time to go global. In 1994, the Ethics Resource Center (now Ethics Research Center, the research arm of the Ethics & Compliance Initiative [ECI]), produced a study titled Ethics in American Business Survey. In 2000, the organization began publishing its national business ethics survey every two or three years, with more focused studies occurring in the intervening years. The most recent, the National Business Ethics Survey of the U.S. Workforce, was released in 2014.

Two years later, the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI) released the results of its first global business ethics survey (GBES) of thousands of employees in 13 countries around the world. It conducted the study because, as ECI states on its GBES webpage, the global, interconnected economy brings the following business challenges: growing third-party networks, corruption risks, and conflicting standards of workplace integrity.

Perhaps not surprisingly, survey results showed that “maintaining integrity in the workplace is a major challenge for organizations around the world, but the likelihood of misconduct and corruption is significantly higher in some countries than in others and multinational organizations face extra difficulty in policing the workplace” (PR Newswire, 2016).

Some findings, as summarized in the press release:

Misconduct is more common at multinational businesses and among supplier firms

  • Employees in multinational organizations observed misconduct and experienced significantly more pressure to compromise standards than did workers at organizations that operate within a single country.
  • Misconduct rates, pressure, and retaliation against whistleblowers were substantially higher at supplier companies that primarily provide goods and services to other companies than at non-suppliers, which sell primarily to consumers.
  • Organizational change, especially merger and acquisition activity, heightens the risks of wrongdoing and adds to the number of employees who feel pressure to violate standards.

Pressure to compromise standards is a leading indicator of current and future misconduct

  • A median of 73 percent of all public and private sector employees surveyed who felt pressure also said they witnessed misconduct where they worked. In the absence of pressure, a median of only 17 percent said they observed misconduct in their place of business.

Rates of misconduct vary significantly among countries

  • Misconduct rates range from a low of 15 percent in Japan, to 30 percent in the United States, to 40 percent or more in Brazil, India, and Russia. ECI speculates, in the survey report, that high levels of organizational change, which “tends to create stress and erode ethical conduct,” likely contributes to high rates of misconduct.

So many firms today are globally connected with customers, suppliers, partners, and employees across the world that it is essential, as Ellen Martin, VP for Ethics and Business Conduct at Boeing Company (a major supporter of the global survey), said in the ECI press release, to understand global workplace ethics issues.

ECI’s Global Business Ethics Survey provides many details about those global workplace ethics issues, and it offers advice about what the issues mean for organizations and what to do about them. Consider adding this report to your reading list!

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ECI. “Global Business Ethics Survey” (webpage).

ECI. Global Business Ethics Survey: Measuring Risk and Promoting Workplace Integrity, June 2016. Available from:

“Workplace Ethics Challenges Vary in Intensity among Major Economies, ECI Finds,” PR Newswire, June 9, 2016.