Yes, you can find an honest business. Here’s how.

If I used the words “honest” and “business” in the same sentence, would you burst into uncontrolled laughter? Uncontrolled, incredulous, laugh-until-you-cry kind of laughter?

Maybe you’ve been reading this column too long. But I assure you, honest businesses — wipe that smirk off your face! — exist. Ethical businesses exist. Businesses that care about you, that put you first, exist.

The problem is eloquently described in the PR firm Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer, which notes that public trust in many institutions, not just business, has declined precipitously in the last year. It noted that respondents were “hungry for increased regulation for business and largely supportive of a number of anti-business policies” because they so distrusted them. Nearly half of respondents say when it comes to business, the system is failing.

So where do you find a business that can be trusted?

“I come across a lot of ethical businesses,” says author and profitability consultant Shel Horowitz.

He cites Dean’s Beans, a coffee retailer in Orange, Mass., as an example of an honest business. Instead of leveraging some of its profits to do good, it flips the script and integrates its mission into everything it does. Sustainability, fair trade, organic — it’s all there.

“Its founder, Dean Cycon, quite consciously uses coffee to change the world,” says Horowitz. “He has quite a story.”

But how do you find a business that will do right?

One way is to look at its structure. Mike Moyer invented what’s called the Slicing Pie model for equity splits in early-stage, bootstrapped startup companies. “It’s the only equity model that guarantees a perfectly fair equity split between founders, employees and other participants,” he says.

The formula applies to a company and its employees until the company breaks even or raises enough capital to pay participants for their contributions. It also will help you calculate a fair buyout price, if any, when someone leaves the company before breakeven.

The model is difficult to cheat, so companies who adopt are those who value and promote honesty, transparency and fairness, according to Moyer.

Actions like these suggest a company will also do right by its customers. But who really knows about equity splits? Unless you’re personally acquainted with the owners, probably no one.

Christian Miller, an expert on the study of character and ethics at Wake Forest University, says you need to ask hard questions to find out if your business is honest. He’s the director of The Character Project, a five-year study of the existence and nature of character funded by $5.6 million in grants from the John Templeton Foundation and the Templeton World Charity Foundation. As part of the project, researchers studied what leads people to act in moral and immoral ways as well as what virtues and moral character people should strive to cultivate.

“There are several criteria for thinking about whether someone is honest,” he says.

They include:

  • Is the business honest, not just at one moment, but stably over time? One way to find out is to search for the company name and keywords such as “scam” or “ripoff.” If nothing turns up, chances are they are always on the up-and-up.
  • Is the business honest, not just in one situation, but across a variety of different situations? Again, review the company’s track record. BBB ratings, unreliable as they may be, and crowd-sourced rating sites, can offer insights.
  • Is the business honest, not just in situations where it is easy to be honest or there are rewards associated with being honest, but also when there is a lot of benefit to being dishonest? It’s easy to throw a charity event, but what happens the rest of the time? Look for evidence of sustained honesty — like Dean’s mission statement.
  • What is the company’s motivation for telling the truth, not cheating, and not lying? “Is it to make a good impression, or relieve guilt, or more broadly to benefit the company?” says Miller. “If so, then that would not count as virtuous motivation, and we would not have the virtue of honesty.” If the motivation behind honesty is to treat someone with respect because the person cares about the truth, then that’s a virtuous motivation. That’s an honest business.

If that doesn’t sound easy, you’re right — it isn’t. When you make a commitment to honesty in your products and practices, it can be a challenging road. Anna Schwengle, founder of Finn + Emma eco-friendly baby gear and fashions, describes the lengths to which she had to go to find that place, from focusing her products on “bountiful sustainability and Earth-consciousness” to finding the perfect certified organic cotton, eco-friendly dyes and all-natural wood.

“On top of that, our garments and accessories are produced in fair trade settings that focus on social and economic independence for local people, women especially, working to provide for their families in a safe and fair environment,” says Schwengle.

Disclaimer: As someone who has been lied to his entire life — mostly by companies, but also by people who I thought were friends — I have a personal interest in this issue. And here’s my take on it. You can do your due diligence, ask for a recommendation from people you trust, and ask all the right questions. And those may illuminate your path to an honest business.

But in the end, you’ll just know when you’re dealing with a dishonest company. After being lied to enough times and noting the difference between rhetoric and reality, it will become apparent that you’re dealing with a company that has lost its moral compass.

And then you have only one choice: Don’t walk away — run!

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

This site is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

This site is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

This site is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

This site is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

This site is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

This site is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

This site is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

This site is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

This site is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

This site is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

This site is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

This site is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

This site is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

This site is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

This site is underwritten by Sungard Availability Services

Leveraging more than 35 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help businesses manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability. A leading provider of critical production and recovery services, Sungard AS partners with customers across the globe, delivering resilient IT systems, infrastructure and recovery services tailored to achieving desired business outcomes.

This site is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

This site is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

This site is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.