Survey: Corporate Misdeeds An Opportunity To Highlight Co-op's Ethics

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A new survey has found that less than half of Americans think investor-owned corporations are ethically governed. The survey found significantly greater public trust in businesses that provide more consumer control and board accountability.

The survey of 2,031 adults by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), found that two-thirds of consumers believe businesses that are owned and governed by their customers or members have consumers on their boards of directors are more trustworthy than those that do not.

A majority also found companies that allow customers to democratically elect the board of directors, and are locally owned and controlled to be more trustworthy.

The survey also found that consumers rate businesses that have these governance characteristics-cooperatives-higher than investor-owned companies. More than half of adults in the U.S. say they're members of cooperatives.

NCBA CEO Paul Hazen said that more than 75% of those surveyed agreed that co-ops run their businesses in a trustworthy manner compared to just 53% for investor-owned companies. More than two-thirds agreed that consumer-owned co-ops are ethically governed, while just 45% said the same of investor-owned corporations.

Good News For Co-ops

Asked whether consumer co-ops have the best interests of consumers in mind when conducting business, 77% of Americans agreed they did. Fewer than half said the same of investor-owned counterparts. Co-ops also rated higher than investor-owned companies by wide margins on questions of value, quality, price, and commitment to their communities.

"Public trust is the first casualty of corporate accountability scandals," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America. Asked whether they would be more or less likely to buy products or services from a business if they knew it to be a cooperative:

* 73% were more likely to buy products from a food cooperative.

* 71% were more likely to use a credit union.

* 69% were more likely to patronize independent, local businesses that belonged to a buying co-op.

* 69% were more likely to purchase food produced by a farmer-owned cooperative.

* 67% were more likely to buy electricity and telecomm services from a local utility co-op.

* 56% were more likely to use day care services provided by a parent-owned co-op.

* 55% were more likely to prefer health care services offered by a consumer-owned provider.

* 51% were more likely to hold policies with a mutual insurance company.

Though the survey found a majority surveyed preferred to do business with co-ops and rated them more highly than investor-owned corporations, trust and preference for co-ops was even stronger among those who said they were already members of cooperatives. The study cited CUNA research that showed the average credit union household saves $149 per year by belonging to a credit union rather than a bank or a thrift. It also pointed to University of Minnesota research that found that owners of cooperative housing save $16 per unit per month in operating costs compared to rental units. And retail co-op members receive savings through member discounts or through end-of-year dividends. Members of other cooperatives also receive end-of-year dividends.

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