by Michael Connor

In a demonstration of how perception can sometimes trump reality, Johnson & Johnson topped a list of companies perceived by American consumers as having the best reputations for corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices.

The Corporate Social Responsibility Index, developed by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and the Reputation Institute, attempts to measure how companies’ reputations are affected by public perceptions of performance related to citizenship (the community and the environment), governance (ethics and transparency) and workplace practices.

Motrin_FeatureThe 2010 CSR Index is based on a survey of 7,790 online U.S. consumers conducted in January and February 2010.

Johnson and Johnson has since admitted – months after the CSR Index survey was conducted – that it misled regulators and consumers by using company-paid contractors to buy defective Motrin painkiller products from store shelves rather than announce a recall.

In testimony before a Congressional committee only two weeks ago, company CEO William Weldon said, “This was not one of our finer moments.”  The “phantom recall” is reportedly the subject of a U.S. criminal investigation and at least one shareholder lawsuit.

The 2010 CSR Index shows the following companies in the top 25 positions:

  1. Johnson & Johnson
  2. The Walt Disney Company
  3. Kraft Foods Inc.
  4. Microsoft
  5. PepsiCo
  6. Apple
  7. Hershey Company
  8. SC Johnson
  9. Kellogg
  10. Google
  11. Caterpillar
  12. Intel
  13. Publix Super Markets Inc.
  14. JC Penney
  15. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
  16. Campbell Soup Company
  17. Marriott International
  18. Anheuser-Busch InBev
  19. UPS
  20. Adobe
  21. AmerisourceBergen
  22. General Mills
  23. Clorox
  24. Eastman Kodak
  25. Fidelity Investments

Companies with the largest year-over-year gains in the Index’s top 50 companies included Johnson & Johnson, Apple, Caterpillar, Intel, Adobe, Dell, AMD, Unilever, Goodyear, Dunkin’ Brands, Texas Instruments and Starbucks.

“Looking at the rankings by industry sectors, it appears the public has positive attitudes about companies that provide them with creature comforts,” with the beverage, consumer products and food manufacturing industries topping the rankings, the Index report said. Companies that fell most in the Index ratings “were in industries plagued with larger reputation challenges” such as automotive and financial services, according to the report.

The report said that many of the companies in the leading industry sectors “are also successful communicators of their CSR efforts and link those efforts with their brand. Communicating about corporate citizenship efforts becomes even more important in an age of skepticism when only two in 10 consumers trust what companies say in their advertising.”

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