Microsoft tops most-ethical list. Facebook, not so much

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From Microsoft via CNN

More than any other industry, technology companies prioritize ethical issues important to most Americans, according to a study released Tuesday from Forbes and the non-profit research group Just Capital.

Well, except for one very notable exception: Facebook.

The groups’ researchers interviewed more than 4,000 American adults, asking respondents their perception of 1,000 of the nation’s most profitable corporations on 29 issues, including worker pay, benefits, prioritizing diversity and inclusion, and how well customers and shareholders are treated. Civic causes such as a company’s environmental and local community activism were also factored in.

Microsoft topped the list for the second year in a row. Other tech companies such as Apple, Intel, Salesforce, Alphabet, and PayPal, made the list’s top 10.

“The list tends to have tech and tech-related companies at the top because the issue people tell us is most important is how you treat your workforce,” Alison Omens, managing director of programs and strategic engagement at JUST Capital, told CNN Business. “You see companies that are technology, and technology-adjacent, pay their employees above a living wage and give them opportunities for career advancement.”

Yet tech companies have been plagued by scandal in recent years. For example, Google employees have protested the company’s stance on sexual harassment in the workplace, and last year, Intel’s CEO resigned after having an inappropriate relationship with an employee.

The surveyed Americans largely ignored potential privacy concerns posed by the vast troves of personal data many tech companies hold. Some companies, including Alphabet, got dinged a bit for regulatory concerns. It placed No. 715 in the category “following all applicable laws.” Google is under antitrust investigation in nearly every state and by the US Justice Department. Still, Alphabet ranked No. 6 overall.

Facebook, however, was a different story: It ranked 149 overall, despite tying for first in worker pay and eighth in other employee categories. But Facebook ranked No. 915 in treatment of its customers, hurt in particular by failing to protect their privacy and communicating dishonestly, according to the survey.

A spokesperson for Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Public perception of Facebook has been badly damaged by its Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the company allowed personal information to be shared with third parties without users’ knowledge. Facebook has also failed to stop the flow of disinformation on its network, as executives have repeatedly said they favor a more hands-off approach to regulating political speech.

Banks and other industries

While tech dominated the list, other industries didn’t fare quite as well. Only one energy company made the list (Apache), while just a single media company (Nielsen) cracked the top 100. The top retail company was Etsy at 52 (Amazon was 75).

Top US banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, also continue to lag behind. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America placed 70 and 71, respectively. The only other banking company to crack the top 100: First Horizon, which placed 87.

Although corporate financial service professionals tend to earn high salaries, the relatively low pay and benefits for retail bankers, who work for these companies at thousands of local branches across the country, pulled consumer banks down on the list. The median annual salary for a full-time bank teller in 2018 was just $29,450 or $14.16 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics while the median yearly income for financial analysts in the same industry was $85,660 or $41.18 per hour last year.

“They have a significant [amount of] front line workers,” Omens said of consumer banks like Chase and BofA.

Lower pay for local bankers has been a subject of controversy in the “Fight for $15” minimum wage increase movement. Bank of America has promised to raise the minimum wage for its workers to $20 per hour by the end of 2020’s first quarter, moving ahead of schedule on its initial goal of a $20 minimum wage by 2021.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has voiced general support for raising the minimum wage for low-earners across the country, but his company hasn’t committed to raising its lowest wage of $16.50 per hour, which was reported in April by the Washington Post.

Dimon, however, recently said wealth inequality is a major problem.

“I think the wealthy have been getting wealthier too much in many ways, so middle-class incomes have been kind of flat for maybe 15 years or so, and that’s not particularly good in America,” Dimon told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in an interview that aired Sunday night.