Democracy Tree: Aramark — World’s most ethical company?

by Amy Kerr Hardin

Aramark, the scaDSCN0444-150x1501ndal-plagued private food vendor hired by Michigan to serve prison food was named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute. This is the fifth time Aramark has taken the honor, and this time it occurred on the heels of news that the vendor served inmates food that rodents had nibbled upon. But that didn’t stop Eric J. Foss, the president and CEO of Aramark, from gushing praise in his press release:
“Every day, everywhere we operate around the world, our dedicated associates enrich and nourish the lives of those we serve with innovative and meaningful solutions. As a global leader, this prestigious honor reinforces our commitment to operating with the highest ethical standards and conducting business with the utmost integrity and respect, while delivering service excellence to our consumers, clients and community partners.”
The Ethisphere Institute started as a division of Corpedia, a for-profit ethics management company described by Bloomberg:
“The company develops and implements ethics and compliance training and communication programs, as well as provides program management tools and materials that help to reduce risk exposure and protect organizations from ethics and compliance failures.”
With approximately 500 corporate clients, Corpedia describes its client services as “a leading international think-tank dedicated to the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability.”
Alex Brigham, Corpedia’s founder and CEO, launched the for-profit Ethisphere as an online survey back in 2007, and it has since grown to enjoy international stature. Brigham eventually spun it off as a separate entity, although he remains the rating company’s director. The two firms continue to share personnel and office space. Corpedia does provide services to numerous Ethisphere award winners, and Bishop readily concedes there are ethical questions about the scoring process —  as reported by Slate.
The scoring is based mostly on information provided by the companies themselves, and Ethisphere says its questionnaire should take 30 to 40 minutes to complete.
Brigham acknowledges that the system is imperfect. “Could they be lying to us?” he says. “Sure, they could. … Over time, we’re going to have to figure out how to verify that.”
Ethisphere admits that there is additionally a smallish issue over reviewing clients they also receive money from, but refuses to label it a conflict of interest. In 2010, they found that 10 percent of the awardees had a relationship with the company, and 5 percent with Corpedia.

Slate reports that a “relationship” is defined as one percent, or more, of the prior year’s sales. It is unknown if Aramark is among those with an additional “relationship” with Ethisphere or Corpedia, but it wouldn’t be surprising –they have ethics problems aplenty.
Of the more than 10,000 companies nominated this year, Ethisphere bestowed the award on just 132 deemed the most ethical in the world. How Aramark made the short list for the fifth time is beyond comprehension.

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