Special Report

Companies With the Worst Reputations

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It can take years for a company to build a good reputation, and just one misstep to ruin it. Businesses lose a positive image for a variety of  reasons: bad customer service, shoddy merchandise, mistreatment of employees, or company scandals. Once a company is saddled with a bad reputation, it can be difficult to return to the public’s good graces.

To identify the  20 companies with the worst reputations, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 2023 Axios Harris Poll. Axios and Harris Poll produce the survey to gauge the reputation of the most visible brands in America. This year’s rankings are based on a survey of 16,310 Americans from a nationally representative sample conducted March 13-28, 2023. Companies’ scores were aggregated from totals in nine categories: Character, trajectory, trust, culture, ethics, citizenship, vision, growth, and products and service.

Seven industry sectors are represented by more than one company on our list. Two groups have three businesses cited: dollar stores and social media companies.

Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree are billion-dollar brands dominating the discount/value retail space, often in low-income neighborhoods. They have also been accused of exploiting low-paid labor. (On the other hand, these 19 executives pay themselves more than $150 million a year.)

Social media companies TikTok, Meta, and Twitter have been embroiled in controversies involving how they use personal user data and misinformation. 

Several oil and gas exploration companies with oil spills and misleading claims about climate change are featured on the list as well, as are several fast-food establishments cited for food quality issues. Also, financial institutions such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo continue to live down scandals from their recent past. (Also see, 20 banks still pouring billions into the fossil fuel industry.)

Fashion businesses Shein and Balenciaga have been in hot water for abusing their workers and running controversial campaigns that exploited children. Meanwhile, instability and corruption in the cryptocurrency sector landed Bitcoin and FTX on the Axios Harris Poll list as well.

Click here to see the companies with the worst reputations.

20. Bank of America
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 70.1
> Change in rank from 2016: Down by 2

Bank of America’s reputation was sullied during the financial crisis. It paid several Justice Department settlements for its role leading up to and during the financial crisis, including for mortgage abuses, consumer and investor protection offenses, and more. More recently, it was fined over how it handled disbursing unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Bank of America scores lowest in the character, trust, and ethics categories on the Axios Harris Poll.

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19. ExxonMobil
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 68.9
> Change in rank from 2016: Up by 6

Of the nine categories evaluated in the Axios Harris Poll, ExxonMobil grades lowest, by far, in the citizenship section. The energy giant has had a history of environmental incidents and has also denied the impact of climate change caused by the use of fossil fuels.

Peer energy companies such as Shell have balked at joining an industrywide effort in 2021 led by ExxonMobil to build a carbon capture and storage hub in Houston because of Exxon’s bad reputation.

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18. Dollar General
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 68.7
> Change in rank from 2016: No change

Dollar General, with nearly 18,000 stores, grades lowest in the categories of culture, character, and products and services. Some customers have said they have been dissatisfied with their purchases. Many have complained about customer service and gift card problems.

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17. Burger King
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 68.6
> Change in rank from 2016: down by 3

Burger King got dinged in the Axios Harris Poll for its culture and citizenship. The fast-food chain perpetually trails McDonald’s in sales and innovative ideas. Following McDonald’s use of celebrities to sell products, Burger King enlisted celebs such as rapper Nelly, singer Larissa Machado, and TikTok celebrity Lil Huddy – all of whom had a meal named after them.

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16. Shein
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 68.2
> Change in rank from 2016: down by 7

Shein grades low in the culture, citizenship, and character categories. The Chinese fast fashion company is famous for its cheap bikinis and bike shorts as well as its affiliation with celebs such as Katy Perry and Rita Ora.

But the e-commerce business also has been in hot water for underpaying its workers, plagiarizing designs, reportedly selling Nazi symbols, and making clothes that contain an unsafe level of toxic chemicals.

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15. Subway
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 68.2
> Change in rank from 2016: down by 2

A lawsuit brought against America’s eighth-largest restaurant by sales in 2021 claimed Subway misled the public about its tuna products and that testing showed the items contained animal proteins such as chicken, pork, and cattle, and not “100% tuna” as advertised.

According to the website Eat This, Not That!, the company’s standards have been declining since founder Fred DeLuca passed away in 2015. Citizenship, character, and culture are the areas where Subway falters in the Axios Harris Poll.

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14. Comcast
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 68.0
> Change in rank from 2016: down by 2

Telecommunications companies are usually among the businesses with the worst reputations, and Comcast is among them. Its score of 63.5 in citizenship is its lowest in nine categories on the Axios Harris Poll.

Over the years, Comcast has been accused of throttling competition, displaying confusing pricing, having shoddy customer service, pursuing an aggressive customer retention policy, and stifling use of the internet.

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13. Wells Fargo & Company
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 67.8
> Change in rank from 2016: Up by 4

Banks are generally unloved by consumers, and Wells Fargo is no different. The public was shocked by the revelation in 2016 that Wells Fargo had created millions of phony accounts and opened them without the account holders’ knowledge.

Other scandals followed, including charging hundreds of thousands of borrowers for auto insurance they did not need. In 2018, the bank launched a marketing campaign to emphasize the company’s commitment to re-establish trust with stakeholders.

In May 2023, the bank agreed to pay $1 billion to settle a lawsuit accusing it of defrauding shareholders about its progress in recovering from a series of scandals over its treatment of customers. Wells Fargo’s lowest grades are in citizenship and character in the Axios Harris Poll.

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12. Dollar Tree
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 67.3
> Change in rank from 2016: down by 15

Dollar Tree plunged the most in ranking of any company on our list. The company grades low in character, culture, ethics, and products and service. Like other dollar stores, Dollar Tree has expanded dramatically, and cities such as New Orleans, Atlanta, and Cleveland are seeking to pause the growth of dollar stores in their communities because of store saturation. Customers have complained of rude service and filthy stores.

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11. Family Dollar
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 65.6
> Change in rank from 2016: No change

Culture, citizenship, and products and services are categories where Family Dollar falters in the Axios Harris Poll. Customers have complained of rude service and unposted prices for products. Like other dollar stores, Family Dollar has deeply penetrated lower-income areas and is said to be a magnet for crime. OSHA officials have said Family Dollar has “a history of not taking the safety of its workers and customers seriously.” Several former employees have sued the company. Family Dollar also had to temporarily close hundreds of stores in early 2022 due to rodent infestation.

10. Balenciaga
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 65.5
> Change in rank from 2016: No change

The French fashion brand launched two campaigns in November 2022 that ignited a firestorm of controversy. One campaign featured photos of kids carrying handbags that looked like teddy bears in bondage gear. Another was of photos that included paperwork about child pornography laws.

Two weeks after the campaigns were launched, condemnations of the ads forced the company to apologize on Instagram, and then the company issued a statement admitting “a series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility.” Character, trust, and ethics are lowest-scoring categories for Balenciaga in the Axios Harris Poll.

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9. BP
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 63.5
> Change in rank from 2016: down by 3

Energy companies regularly appear on lists of companies with the worst reputations, and BP is one of them. In 2010, one of the worst environmental catastrophes ever occurred when an explosion at the company’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and unleashed the largest oil spill ever. BP was accused of reckless conduct and gross negligence.

The spill was also a public relations nightmare. BP’s published remarks that it cared “about the small people,” such as shrimpers and fishermen, came across as condescending. The company settled with the U.S. Justice Department in 2012, but other litigation continued. Character, trust, citizenship, and ethics are lacking at the British company, according to the Axios Harris Poll.

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8. Bitcoin
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 61.1
> Change in rank from 2016: No change

Bitcoin’s reputation suffered from claims that the cryptocurrency was used to finance terrorist activities, launder money, and was involved in illicit drug activity. Such illicit activities, however, compose a small portion of all bitcoin activity. There were also regulatory and security concerns about bitcoin. Wide swings in its value have unsettled investors. Citizenship, trust, character, culture, and ethics are some of the categories where Bitcoin comes up short in the Axios Harris Poll.

7. TikTok
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 61.1
> Change in rank from 2016: No change

Social media platform TikTok has been hugely popular among the younger generation, but many in the U.S. government believe it is a national security threat. TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified before a congressional committee to try to reassure lawmakers that the company safeguards the data it collects, but U.S. representatives remain unconvinced and want to ban the app.

The concern is that TikTok could be forced to cooperate with the Chinese government and possibly hand over data it has collected. Character, trust, ethics, and citizenship are categories where TikTok is lacking in the Axios Harris Poll.

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6. Spirit Airlines
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 60.1
> Change in rank from 2016: No change

Price-conscious customers have been dissatisfied with Spirit’s service, despite the money they saved. They have also complained about the additional fees for bags as well as frustration with the strict size limits on the one courtesy carry-on. Passengers felt the seats were uncomfortable.

The airline’s PR woes deepened in 2021, when major operational issues led to the cancellation of thousands of flights. Character, culture, citizenship, and products and services are categories found wanting by those polled at Axios Harris Poll.

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5. Meta
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 59.7
> Change in rank from 2016: Up by 1

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, was found lacking in the areas of citizenship, ethics, and character. Mark Zuckerberg’s company saw a revenue drop when the company bet big on the metaverse, where interactions would be virtual. To counter the revenue drop, the company has had two major rounds of layoffs and cut a key bonus metric to make Meta more efficient. The measures have not improved its reputation. The layoffs and claims of absentee management have reportedly lowered company morale.

Meta’s reputation had already taken a hit when it settled litigation stemming from lawsuits brought against Facebook by users who claimed that the company shared their data without their consent with advertisers and data brokers.

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4. Twitter
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 59.3
> Change in rank from 2016: Up by 1

The controversy surrounding Twitter reached a fever pitch in 2020, when conservative groups accused the social platform of censoring stories critical of Democratic candidate Joe Biden and trying to help him win the presidential election.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk bought the company in October for $44 billion, vowing for a balanced political discussion platform. But problems arose soon after he purchased Twitter. Musk quickly cut staff, and the social network experienced glitches such as replies to tweets would show up out of order, the notifications tab did not update, and the two-factor authentication tool failed. In the Axios Harris Poll, Twitter falls short in character, trust, ethics, culture, and citizenship.

Source: Drew Angerer / Getty Images News via Getty Images

3. Fox Corporation
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 59.3
> Change in rank from 2016: down by 2

Fox’s reputation is tainted because some of its on-air talent such as former host Tucker Carlson downplayed the seriousness of the invasion of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021. Some at the conservative-leaning network have also perpetuated the false claim that former President Donald Trump was the victim of widespread voter fraud.

In April, Fox News agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $800 million to avert a trial in the voting machine company’s lawsuit. Dominion had sued Fox for $1.6 billion, saying the network hurt its reputation by claiming its equipment switched votes from Trump to Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential election. Those polled by Axios Harris found fault in Fox in the areas of character, trust, culture, ethics, and citizenship.

Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images News via Getty Images

2. FTX
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 58.6
> Change in rank from 2016: No change

FTX Exchange, founded in 2018 by MIT graduate and former exchange-traded funds trader Sam Bankman-Fried, was the third-largest centralized cryptocurrency exchange as of July 2021. In November 2022, the exchange and the companies in its circle collapsed abruptly, and Bankman-Fried resigned.

The exchange’s dissolution was attributed to “a complete failure of corporate control,” according to John J. Ray III, who succeeded Bankman-Fried as CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange, calling it an “old-fashioned embezzlement.” Investors and creditors are unlikely to get their money back. Bankman-Fried faced criminal charges connected with the sudden implosion of his billion-dollar empire and cryptocurrency exchange. FTX scores under 60 in eight of the nine categories in the Axios Harris Poll.

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1. The Trump Organization
> 2023 Harris Poll Reputations Score: 52.9
> Change in rank from 2016: No change

The Trump Organization has the worst reputation by far of any company on our list. This is the second consecutive year the former president’s company has occupied the bottom spot on the Axios Harris Poll. The company has been hit with allegations of fraudulent business practices.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is attempting to bar the Trump Organization from doing any business in the state. Last year, Allen Weisselberg, the company’s CFO, pleaded guilty to more than a dozen criminal charges that include tax fraud and the falsification of business records.

In January, the Trump Organization was hit with $1.6 million in penalties, the maximum, by a New York court for an illegal tax scheme that went back 10 years. The Trump Organization ranks as the worst company in all nine categories in the Axios Harris Poll.

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