Nokia plays the ethics card

Finnish kit vendor Nokia is celebrating being named one of the world’s most ethical companies, but what does that even mean?

The accolade has been bestowed on Nokia, for the fourth time, by a company called Ethisphere. As the name implies, ethics are its thing and it has been the self-appointed arbiter of corporate wholesomeness for some time. This year Ethisphere (tagline: Good. Smart. Business. Profit.) decided 132 companies were nice and ethical. The list reads like a who’s who of corporate America, with 101 of the ‘winners’ coming from that country.

“It is a great honour to be recognized once again as one of the world’s most ethical companies,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri. “Our reputation is built on more than 150 years of trustworthiness and ethical business practices. This award is due to the hard work and commitment of the entire Nokia team, who ensure we put our values of trust, integrity, and social and environmental responsibility into everything we do.”

“Nokia is one of just three telecom companies to make the list, highlighting how much the company is doing to enhance ethical business practices in the sector”, said Ethisphere’s CEO, Timothy Erblich. “Congratulations to everyone at Nokia for earning this recognition.”

Being such a paragon of ethics, it’s safe to assume the methodology involved in awarding these accolades is totally transparent, right? Well, here’s what the press release has to say: “Grounded in Ethisphere’s proprietary Ethics Quotient®, the World’s Most Ethical Companies assessment process includes more than 200 questions on culture, environmental and social practices, ethics and compliance activities, governance, diversity and initiatives to support a strong value chain.

“The process serves as an operating framework to capture and codify the leading practices of organizations across industries and around the globe. Best practices and insights from the 2020 honorees will be released in a report and webcast in March and April of this year. All companies that participate in the assessment process receive an Analytical Scorecard providing them a holistic assessment of where their programs stand against the demanding standards of leading companies.”

So it seems only companies that involve themselves with Ethisphere’s proprietary Ethics Quotient (registered trade mark) even qualify for assessment. Ethisphere is a for-profit company as far as we can tell, so it’s presumably not compiling this list entirely as a philanthropic gesture. I quick sniff around its website reveals that it costs at least $3,000 to participate in Ethisphere’s proprietary Ethics Quotient, the underlying methodology for which we couldn’t find a link to.

It’s no secret that compliance and corporate responsibility are big business and that companies devote considerable resource to managing their reputations. Nokia is hardly alone in this respect, but it’s hard to know how seriously to take this specific accreditation, awarded as it is by an organisation that bases at least part of its business model on charging companies for the privilege. Whatever happened to ‘virtue is its own reward’?