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Breaking News: Big Companies Are More Ethically Challenged

It's almost the ten-year anniversary of Sarbanes-Oxley, the giant, federally-mandated accounting accountability act that arose in the wake of the Enron scandal. Remember mark-to-market accounting, Raptors and Arthur Andersen? Ah, those were the days.

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We know what happened to Enron and Arthur Andersen, but what has former Congressman Mike Oxley (R–OH-4) been up to since then? Well, one of his gigs is as chairman of a non-partisan, nonprofit group The Ethics Resource Center (ERC), which has just released a survey of 2,172 employees at U.S.-based companies with annual revenues of at least $5 billion. What are these employees seeing on the job? According to the report found on

Major findings from the study included:

1) just over half of workers (52 percent) at the highest revenue companies had observed misconduct in the previous 12 months, compared to 45 percent at all companies in the U.S.

2) Seventy-four percent of employees at the Fortune 500® businesses reported misconduct when they saw it, compared to 65 percent on average for all businesses in the U.S.

3) Sixteen percent of workers at the Fortune 500® companies felt pressure to break the rules, compared to 13 percent at all companies in the U.S.

4) Whistleblowers were slightly more likely to experience retaliation at Fortune 500® companies than at companies in the U.S. overall.

The report concludes that the most common form of reported "misconduct" at very large companies is bribing clients, which accounts for upwards of three-fourths (70%) of reported misconduct. The Fortune 500 employees surveyed were least likely to report co-workers who engage in the misconduct of taking care of personal business on company time. Those online shopping orders don't place themselves, you know.

I'm not sure exactly how "misconduct" is further defined here -- it could range from stealing a co-worker's best pen to fudging the numbers in corporate reports -- but if more than half of workers at Fortune 500 companies are witnessing "misconduct," then most average, unemployment-riddled American families forced to stock up on Manwich sloppy Joe's sauce on sale because they're still navigating the worst depression recession since the 1930s will probably glance up from their shopping carts, yawn, and think, "Well, yeah, now tell me something surprising -- and could you tell the 'job creators' to create millions of well-paying, steady, U.S.-based jobs while you're at it?" Jobs without sloppy ethics preferred.

The good news is that three-fourths of Fortune 500 employees who see something tend to say something, even if they're more likely than workers at smaller companies to experience some form of retaliation.

So there you have it, and you can take that to the bank.


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