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How we define corporate social responsibility and which companies are considered the best and which are the worst

How customers feel about one company has important outcomes on sales and according to new findings, over 40% of what consumers think about a corporation has to do with social responsibility. A new Harris poll determined what people care about when it comes to the social responsibility of corporations and which companies are considered the best and which are the worst, in the eyes of the everyday consumer. 

Corporate reputation is extremely important and a new Harris poll probed the landscape in order to understand the most recent trends affecting the social responsibility image of the 100 most visible companies in America. They analysis looked at how consumers judged social responsibility and what exactly is important to them when it comes to corporate reputation.

Also, the poll provided a breakdown of the companies that have the best social responsibility scores by generation and the corporations that have the worst image in the eyes of the public.


So what is social responsibility?

Social responsibility
source: 123rf

When it comes to social responsibility, most of the participants, 39%, said that the why in which a company treats its employees is the most important. Ethics issues came in second and respectful treatment of customers, third.

Also important were providing affordable and accessible products and services and safety, according to the findings of the Harris Poll.

“Consider corporate reputation crises in recent memory – Wells Fargo, Mylan, Samsung, Volkswagen and Takata – and it makes sense that we see employee treatment, ethics, providing affordable products, and safety on top of consumers’ minds,” said Wendy Salomon, vice president of reputation management and public affairs at The Harris Poll. “Although the poll was conducted before United Airlines’ passenger issue, respectful treatment of customers was already among the top social responsibility matters vital to consumers. Given the magnitude of attention about United’s scandal, how companies show respect to customers is something consumers will continue to watch very closely.”

A new concern that could affect how a company is perceived has everything to do with the online environment. How they treat personal information has become an increasingly important factor in evaluating a company, especially for Millennials.

The poll found that 69% of millennials and 82% baby boomers are concerned about the increasing amount of personal information companies capture about their customers. But millennials are much more inclined than baby boomers to reject doing business or to purchase products form corporations that they are concerned about, when it comes to protecting personal information.

“It’s no secret that millennials have tremendous buying power, but with roughly half taking action and proactively working to convince others to do the same – that’s staggering,” said Salomon. “If companies are not taking steps to integrate social responsibility activities with their corporate DNA and effectively communicate to customers about why these programs are important, they are already behind.”

And this trend is especially important as millennials are the ones most inclined than previous generations to try to persuade their families and friends about which companies they should be doing business with and which they should avoid.

Social responsibility also affects the way a company is perceived when expending in a community. And some businesses already have a bad reputation and will get the least of support when trying to grow their presence in local areas. Especially Millennials are the ones that would oppose expansion coming form the automotive and fast-food industry, the Harris poll suggests.


The good and the bad

Social responsibility

U.S. consumers rate Wegmans, Publix Super Markets,, Tesla Motors and USAA as the top companies for corporate social responsibility efforts, according to findings from The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient.

The top ten continues with Lowe’s, UPS, L.L. Bean, Walt Disney Company and Whole Foods Market.

But only eight of the 100 companies measured achieved “excellent” CSR ratings this year, showing that companies still have a long way ahead in building up their images in the eyes of American consumers. Last year, four companies received “excellent” social responsibility ratings; in 2010, zero companies. This year marks Publix Super Markets’ third consecutive year with an “excellent” social responsibility rating and it is Wegmans’ second time in the category.

USAA has achieved “excellent” ratings three times overall, and it’s the second consecutive year for USAA and Amazon. Companies making their “excellent” social responsibility rating debuts are Tesla, Lowe’s, UPS and L.L. Bean.

“Achieving an excellent social responsibility rating is a high bar,” said Gstalder. “It wasn’t that many years ago when we didn’t see any companies attain this level of recognition for their efforts. So while this progress is a testament to how much more active some companies are in their CSR endeavors, it also demonstrates how much more work is needed.”

But there are differences when looking at CSR ratings when broken down by generations. For baby boomers, the top five companies are Wegmans, General Mills, Southwest Airlines, Amazon and USAA.

For millennials, Tesla comes in first, followed by Publix Super Markets,, UPS and USAA.

When looking at the bottom of the list, Monsanto is last, while Wells Fargo & Company is 99th, Goldman Sachs is 98th, Halliburton is on 97, preceded by Takata, BP, Exxon Mobile, Volkswagen Group, Bank of America and AIG.

What these companies have in common was that they were all plagued by scandals that had to do with their treatment of clients. Monsanto, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs garnered “critical” corporate social responsibility marks in the 2017 poll.

“Long gone are the days when acting in a socially responsible manner was optional,” said Carol Gstalder, senior vice president, The Harris Poll. “The expectations have evolved from simply acting responsibly, to how companies create social value for their stakeholders.”

Volkswagen is one of the companies that has registered an increase after their efforts of making amends following the emissions scandal.

Hobby Lobby (+7.3), Capital One Financial Corporation (+7.1), Burger King (+6.7), Toyota Motor Corporation (+6.2), 21st Century Fox (+5.5) and Prudential Financial (+5.3) also made notable social responsibility gains.

Wells Fargo, dealing with reputation fallout from its fake accounts scandal, experienced the largest drop, falling 19 points to a “critical” score.

Other companies that are falling out of grace are Bank of America (-8.4), Samsung (-6.8), Procter & Gamble Co. (-6.1) and Goldman Sachs (-5.8).

Sylvia Jacob