Britain ranks fifth behind a clutch of Nordic countries in a survey released today of the world's most responsibly competitive nations .
The responsible competitiveness index, which parallels the World Economic Forum's global competitiveness index, is aimed at governments and policymakers in the belief that national competitiveness and responsible business practices go hand in hand.
Its release was timed for today's ministerial roundtable on the role of governments in promoting corporate citizenship at the UN Global Compact leaders summit in Geneva, attended by hundreds of chief executives, several heads of state, and more than 40 government ministers.
The survey, a joint project between AccountAbility, a social and ethical research Institute based in London, and the Brazilian business school Fundação Dom Cabral, defines responsible competitiveness as markets that reward business for strategies that take explicit account of social, economic and environmental impacts.
The index ranks the progress of 108 countries according to indicators such as government policies that encourage responsible business practices, business behaviour in governance and environmental practices and the broader social and political environment.
"The good news is that countries can compete responsibly and be successful, so long as governments and policy makers can put in place the right frameworks," said Simon Zadek, the chief executive of AccountAbility.
On Britain, he said: "The UK is a leader in this despite recent events such as the BAE scandal."
Britain tarnished its anti-corruption credentials when the Serious Fraud Office halted an investigation into a multi-billion contract between BAE Systems, the British armaments giant, and Saudi Arabia.
The SFO called off its inquiries at the behest of the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith on the advice of former prime minister Tony Blair on grounds of national security.
Notwithstanding the BAE affair, Britain comes fifth behind Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.
Alex Macgillivray, head of programmes at AccountAbility, said Britain scored well in that it has signed up to relevant international treaties such as Kyoto and adheres to labour rights. Another plus was the strong push from consumers for companies to behave responsibility.
"Britain is a world leader when it comes to coalitions between NGOs and industry," Mr Macgillivray said. "And it has very demanding consumers."
Where Britain scored less well than its Nordic rivals was the lack of social and environmental awareness among small- and medium-sized businesses on basic issues such energy efficiency and recycling.
Emerging economies may consider the index irrelevant to them, but unfettered economic growth without taking into account social and environmental implications has its drawbacks as China is increasingly finding out.
This week, China food safety watchdog admitted that almost a fifth of the domestic products it inspects fail to reach minimum standards and there are growing concerns over the safety of its exports.
The US Food and Drug Administration recently told consumers to stop buying toothpaste made in China because it might contain poisonous diethylene glycol. Last week the FDA sounded the alarm on farm-raised seafood from China, citing excessive levels of antibiotics and additives.
In a foreword to the report, former US vice-president Al Gore and now chairman of Generation Investment Management, the investment firm, said: "A sustainable future needs markets that reward long-term performance. It means seeing responsible business practice as the guide to the quality of the business and its management."