Britons own up to being the world's most dishonest people

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The Independent Online

Britons are among the world's most dishonest people, according to research that seems to undermine the country's long-held reputation for fair play.

Britons are among the world's most dishonest people, according to research that seems to undermine the country's long-held reputation for fair play.

British people are more likely to steal hotel towels and make false insurance claims than any other nationality, says the study, which puts us at the top of an international league for unethical behaviour. Restaurants, shops and workplaces are also fair game for dishonesty.

The researchers, from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, say that the persistent cheating is costing industry millions.

They quizzed consumers in Europe, America and the Far East about their views on dishonest behaviour and discovered that British consumers have the worst attitude of all. The idea of taking towels from hotel bedrooms was particularly popular, and 40 per cent said it was all right to change the price tags on shopping items.

"The fact that half of Britons thought it OK to make a false insurance claim represents a huge cost to the economy and a challenge to that industry," says the report, published this week in the Journal of Consumer Marketing. "Consumer tolerance of unethical actions - up to and including outright theft - presents a depressing scenario, especially in the UK."

The researchers also found that, compared with other religions, Christians were most likely to favour unethical behaviour.

Those questioned were given 11 scenarios and asked to indicate the strength of their approval or disapproval. These included drinking a can of drink in a supermarket and not buying it; reporting a lost item as stolen to an insurance company to collect the money; changing price tags in stores; using an employer's telephone to make private calls; not saying anything when charged too little in a restaurant; taking towels from hotels; and renting a double-bed hotel room and using it for more than two people. The majority of British consumers said it was OK to cheat in eight of the 11 scenarios.

"We make great statements about our moral superiority - especially compared with wicked, rapacious Americans," say the researchers. "Yet, when it comes to basic ethics - making a clear distinction between right and wrong - we fall well behind standards in the USA."

Worldwide, the most objectionable behaviour is drinking a can in a supermarket without buying it. The most tolerable behaviour is taking towels from hotels. In the UK, it is estimated that up to 5 per cent of hotel towels go missing each year. And an online poll showed that one in five hotel guests admit stealing or considering stealing toiletries from the cleaning trolley.

The study said nationality, age and religion were significant predictors of how consumers viewed questionable behaviour, but that gender made no difference.

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