Health-related small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Asia-Pacific region with high or medium ethics program maturity have had stronger economic performance during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research conducted by ethics think-tank Ethisphere.
The study, conducted in collaboration with professor Laura Spence at the University of London Royal Holloway, covered more than 220 firms across 18 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). All respondents were SMEs in health-related industries with fewer than 1,000 employees, and the survey was conducted in August and September 2021.
More than two in five (43 percent) companies surveyed reported having increased their investment in ethics and compliance resources during the pandemic, and only 6 percent reduced what they were spending. Among those who increased investment, the most common reasons cited were increased focus on compliance from the industry (53 percent), an increased focus on compliance from society (40 percent), and specific requests from domestic and international customers/partners (each at 34 percent).
Ethisphere‘s research indicates that surveyed companies were more likely to grow revenues locally and with international customers, add employees, increase employee wages and expand businesses into new markets. The research was undertaken as part of the Business Ethics for APEC SMEs Initiative, a public-private, multi-sectoral partnership to advance business ethics in the medical device and biopharmaceutical sectors, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“This study sends a strong message to businesses everywhere — a robust ethics and compliance program is a competitive advantage,” said Diane Farrell, acting undersecretary for International Trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce. “It also illustrates the importance of global companies helping to advance the practices of third parties by clearly stating expectations and also providing guidance and resources to improve program maturity.”
Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, which co-sponsored the research, and industry co-chair of the APEC biopharmaceutical working group on ethics, emphasized the key links between trust and innovation.
“This study shows that companies are putting greater attention on adopting ethics programs, adding them into a broader environmental, social and governance framework,” Cueni said. “During COVID-19, trust has been vital to innovation and delivery of health technologies across the world: from building partnerships to scale-up production of vaccines and medicines, to working with regulators for the approval of these.”