The Ethisphere Institute is an international think-tank based in New York that is dedicated to “the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability” according to its website. For the third consecutive year, it has compiled a list of the companies that it believes to be the most ethical in the world.

The rankings are based on a variety of factors, including innovation that contributes to public well being, environmental issues, corporate governance, legal and regulatory record, executive leadership, industry leadership, and internal compliance programs.

The list includes companies from 35 different countries.

Some interesting choices on the list include: (1) Nike, which in the past has been attacked for its child labor policies, (2) McDonald’s, which is often criticized for making America’s kids fat, and (3) HP, whose board was involved in a recent spying scandal.

I guess it all depends on how one defines ethics, and how far back one goes in judging these companies.

See the full list of companies below.

2009 World’s Most Ethical Companies

Honeywell International- USA • Aerospace and Defense
The Aerospace Corporation- USA • Aerospace and Defense
Nike- USA • Apparel
Patagonia- USA • Apparel
BMW- Germany • Automotive
Cummins- USA • Automotive
Johnson Controls- USA • Automotive
Toyota Motor- Japan • Automotive
HSBC- UK • Banking
Rabobank- Netherlands • Banking
Standard Chartered Bank- UK • Banking
Westpac Banking Corporation- Australia • Banking
Accenture- Bermuda • Business Services
Pitney Bowes- USA • Business services
Ecolab- USA • Chemicals
Dell- USA • Computer Hardware
Hewlett-Packard- USA • Computer Hardware
Ricoh Company- Japan • Computer Hardware
Xerox- USA • Computer Hardware
Oracle Corporation- USA • Computer Software
salesforce.com- USA • Computer Software
Symantec- USA • Computer Software
Henkel- Germany • Consumer Products
Kao- Japan • Consumer Products
Mattel- USA • Consumer Products
SC Johnson & Son- USA • Consumer Products
Unilever- Netherlands/UK • Consumer Products
General Electric- USA • Diversified Industries
Freescale Semiconductor- USA • Electronics & Semiconductors
Intel- USA • Electronics & Semiconductors
Texas Instruments- USA • Electronics & Semiconductors
Duke Energy- USA • Energy & Utilities
FPL Group- USA • Energy & Utilities
Sempra Energy- USA • Energy & Utilities
Statkraft- Norway • Energy & Utilities
Wisconsin Energy- USA • Energy & Utilities
CRH- Ireland • Engineering & Construction
Fluor- USA • Engineering & Construction
Holcim- Switzerland • Engineering & Construction
Waste Management- USA • Environmental Services & Equipment
American Express- USA • Financial services
The Hartford Financial Services- USA • Financial services
The Principal Financial Group- Financial services
Danone- France • Food & Beverage
General Mills- USA • Food & Beverage
Kellogg Company- USA • Food & Beverage
PepsiCo- USA • Food & Beverage
Stonyfield Farm- USA • Food & Beverage
Sodexo- France • Food Service
Safeway- USA • Food Stores
Trader Joe’s- USA • Food Stores
International Paper- USA • Forestry, Paper & Packaging
Stora Enso- Finland • Forestry, Paper & Packaging
Svenska Cellulosa (SCA)- Sweden • Forestry, Paper & Packaging
Weyerhaeuser- USA • Forestry, Paper & Packaging
Target- USA • General Retail
Cleveland Clinic- USA • Healthcare
Johns Hopkins Hospital- USA • Healthcare
Premier- USA • Healthcare
Accor- France • Hotels, Travel & Hospitality
Marriott International- USA • Hotels, Travel & Hospitality
Caterpillar- USA • Industrial Manufacturing
Eaton Corporation- USA • Industrial Manufacturing
John Deere- USA • Industrial manufacturing
Milliken- USA • Industrial manufacturing
Rockwell Automation- USA • Industrial Manufacturing
Aflac- USA • Insurance
Sompo- Japan • Insurance
Swiss Re- Switzerland • Insurance
Google- USA • Internet
Zappos.com- USA • Internet
Dun & Bradstreet- USA • Media, Publishing & Entertainment
Thomson Reuters- USA/UK • Media, Publishing & Entertainment
Time Warner- USA • Media, Publishing & Entertainment
Baxter International- USA • Medical Devices
Becton Dickinson- USA • Medical Devices
Royal Philips- Netherlands • Medical Devices
Flint Hills Resources- USA • Oil & Gas
Petro-Canada- Canada • Oil & Gas
AstraZeneca- UK/Sweden • Pharma & Biotech
Novartis- Switzerland • Pharma & Biotech
Novo Nordisk- Denmark • Pharma & Biotech
Novozymes- Denmark • Pharma & Biotech
Jones Lang LaSalle- USA • Real estate
McDonald’s- USA • Restaurants & Cafes
Starbucks- USA • Restaurants & Cafes
Best Buy- USA • Specialty Retail
Gap- USA • Specialty Retail
IKEA- Sweden • Specialty Retail
Marks & Spencer- UK • Specialty Retail
Ten Thousand Villages- USA • Specialty Retail
Avaya- USA • Telecom Hardware
Cisco Systems- USA • Telecom Hardware
Harris Corporation- USA • Telecom Hardware
T-Mobile- USA • Telecom Services
Vodafone- UK • Telecom Services
Nippon Yusen Kaisha- Japan • Transportation and logistics
United Parcel Service- USA • Transportation and logistics