UK bus companies are some of world's most ethical firms, survey shows

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Britain's bus companies have a better ethical record than the new tech giants Apple and Google, according to a global sustainability league table published today.

FirstGroup, the UK's biggest bus operator, was second best in the world for social, environmental and governance while another bus outfit floated on the London Stock Exchange, Go Ahead Group, was tenth best globally.

German sportswear manufacturer Puma – rated the global leader – British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline and the electronics maker Phillips fared well in the report, by responsible investment research service EIRIS. But US tech giants Apple and Google, had low scores.

Ahead of the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio in June, EIRIS examined the ethical record of all the 2,063 companies in the FTSE ALL World Developed Index of large companies, giving them an A to E grading.

Among the world's 50 biggest companies, all four given the lowest E grade were oil and gas producers: ExxonMobile, Chevron, ConocoPhilips and Occidental. But there were also low grades for businesses popular with western consumers, notably Apple and Google (whose informal corporate slogan is: "Don't be evil") which both received 'D' grades.

Pointing to the poor conditions of Chinese workers who assemble Apple's iPads and iPhones, EIRIS said: "Apple has yet to tackle some of its most relevant ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues."

Mark Robertson, EIRIS head of communications, said: "Google scores poorly overall when compared to other technology companies in its sector, largely a result of poor performance on environmental management reporting."

Puma – once linked with sweatshops – was praised for efforts to improve the health and welfare of foreign workers. Mr Robertson said: "Puma is a good example of a company that has made clear efforts to respond to some of the criticisms made against it."

FirstGroup, Britain's chief bus operator with 20 per cent of services nationwide, was second worldwide and top of UK businesses despite environmental problems linked with transport.

The firm – which has improved fuel-efficiency and installed solar panels – was "demonstrating significant improvements in its environmental performance," EIRIS said. Go-Ahead Group, another bus company, which also operates Southern, Southeastern and GatwickExpress rail franchises, was also praised.

An Apple spokeswoman said: "We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. We insist that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made."

Google said: "Reducing our environmental impact is something we have always cared about: it makes sense from a business perspective, but more importantly, it can do a lot of good and have huge benefits for the world."