Findings of the South African Business Ethics Survey

The Ethics Institute recently completed its third survey of business ethics in South Africa. The first survey of this kind was done in 2002, and the second survey in 2010.


A total of 4099 respondents from 15 companies participated in the survey. These respondents were selected to ensure that employees on all levels of the employment hierarchy participated in the survey. A telephone interview was conducted with each respondent.

The survey instrument was the Organisational Ethics Indicator – a standardised instrument that was developed by EthicsSA. The same instrument was also used in the 2010 survey. Consequently we were able to compare the findings of the 2013 survey with the 2010 findings.

A comparison between the results of the two surveys indicates that there were positive developments in ethics management over the last three years in South Africa. Four areas that showed a statistically significant improvement over the three years since the 2010 survey are:

  • An increase in awareness of ethics programme elements, such as codes of ethics, ethics training and safe reporting systems.
  • The 2013 findings indicate that fewer incidents of misconduct were observed by employees in companies compared to the 2010 survey.
  • Employees reported that they are experiencing less organisational pressure to engage in unethical conduct than in 2010.
  • Compared to the 2010 survey fewer participants indicated that there are situations inviting unethical conduct in their companies.

The survey also demonstrated a clear correlation between a strong ethical culture and positive ethical behaviour by employees. Employees are more likely to report unethical conduct and less likely to experience pressure to compromise ethical standard in companies with strong ethical cultures. They are also less likely to observe unethical conduct and generally feel better prepared to deal with difficult ethical situations.

The above findings demonstrate that the concerted efforts by companies to ensure that their ethics is managed effectively – as required by Principle 1.3 of the Third King Report – are paying off.

There is however one disconcerting finding in the survey: There is no significant shift in the ethical culture of companies, despite the above advances in ethics management that were made over the last three years. The ethical culture rating of companies remained more or less on the same levels as in 2010.

We are still in the process of making sense of this discrepancy in the findings. We invite our members to assist us in making sense of this discrepancy: Why don’t we see changes in the ethical culture of organisations despite the increases in the effectiveness of ethics management programmes?

The final report of the 2013 South African Business Ethics Survey (SABES) will be released at a function for EthicsSA members on 26 July in Cape Town. The final report will also be discussed at the Ethics Officer Learning Forum on 13 September at Leriba Lodge in Centurion.

We would like to thanks Total SA and Massmart for their financial support that made the survey and the publication of the SABES 2013 Report possible.

Deon Rossouw (CEO)