IMG_4200Ethisphere just released their annual list of world’s most ethical companies for 2013.

Just 145 companies made the grade from several thousand applicants (This Forbes article suggested that the 137 winners in 2012 were selected from nearly 5,000 companies in more than 100 countries and 36 industries.)

Among the winners in 2013 are GAP, The Nature Conservancy, Whole Foods and others. I’m proud to note that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is on this list. Some conspicuous absences include Apple and Google.

Why is this important?

First, I think its commendable that companies take the step of even applying for this recognition, and submitting to the evaluation process it entails. In essence the people in these companies are saying “Yes, you can hold us publicly accountable to live up to the highest standards. Though some may think this is corny or even risky – count us among those who takes ethics seriously and strive to be our best.

And second, consumers demand ethical behavior from companies. It has always been important to do the right thing. In the past however, companies had much less accountability. It was hard for consumers to know whether a given company was doing the right thing, and if they found evidence of wrong doing, either on a specific local instance or a large scale global pattern, it was very hard for individuals to muster their forces and resources to do anything about it.

Today its different. Thanks to the internet and social media, we as consumers today are more informed than ever.  We are learning how to evaluate companies as moral players, and to reward or penalize them accordingly.

Companies need to engage their teams from top to bottom in soul searching each in their own way, to understand why they are here, and what good they are going to bring to this world. Whatever that is, they then need to refocus their entire resources around that, and do it in a transparent, highly accountable way.

Companies that follow this path, will eventually find themselves connected to their customers and partners in a way that drives rapid improvements, better working relationships and greater potential for success.