Protestors in various cities around the world are “occupying” any parks and streets they can find, to some extent to protest the success of big business as it contrasts the fortunes of the little person. The occupy movement is only the tip of the matter. People around the world view business as corrupt. People in the United States need not look much further than recent news about Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ: GMCR), Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) and Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) to see their views confirmed.
A new poll from Gallup shows:
About two in three adults worldwide believe corruption is widespread in the businesses in their countries. This belief is relatively commonplace everywhere in the world — ranging from 60% in the U.S. and Canada to a high of 76% in sub-Saharan Africa — but it tends to be higher in lower income regions.
By most accounts, bribery and corruption are not restricted much by law or its enforcement in the developing world. So there the extremely poor, which are a significant part of the population, likely have evidence that confirms their suspicions.
The figures for the U.S. and Canada, where people say corruption is prevalent, should be disheartening and of significant concern to businesses, from small companies to large corporations. That “corruption is widespread” measure of adults in the U.S. and Canada is 60%. Gallup does not give good reasons for why the figure is so high.
One reason for the U.S. and Canada figure is that people’s memories are strong. The Walmart (NYSE: WMT) corruption case will remain part of the conversation about big business for decades, whether or not the charges about its actions in Mexico are proven. Trouble with the government at Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) is fresh in people’s minds as well. Very few people over 30 do not remember Enron, one of the greatest lapses in business ethics in the U.S. ever. And there are the less well remembered Worldcom and a series of CEO and bribery missteps at Boeing (NYSE: BA). There are plenty of these incidents.
The perception of corruption is so widespread because it is true, no matter how unfortunate that is for businesses and the people who are their customers, and sometimes investors.
Douglas A. McIntyre