Only a narrow minority of Swiss companies is looking into the social impact of the digital transformation on their business activities and specifically on their workforce, according to a study conducted by Swiss pension funds-backed Ethos Foundation, in partnership with EthicsGrade.

Only four companies (Adecco, Nestlé, Swisscom and UBS) have already communicated publicly on the matter, the study added.

However, Switzerland’s largest listed companies analysed in the study have improved their scores with regard to digital responsibly. Georg Fischer and Baloise have also adopted and published a code of digital responsibility in response to Ethos’ demand, the study said.

But only eight companies have adopted or claim to have adopted ethical principles relating to the use of artificial intelligence (AI), and only eight claim to have a working group focusing on the ethics of AI, the same number recorded one year ago, the study added.

The research also showed that nine companies, a slight improvement compared with six in 2022 and two in 2021, highlighted their AI-based systems have been developed only to generate a positive social impact. Companies are not transparent on the operations of AI-based systems, it added.

Only 12 companies stated they had to consider and analyse the impact that ChatGPT – or similar generative AI tools – has on their business.

Vincent Kaufmann, the chief executive officer of the Ethos Foundation, said: “Swiss companies are still very reluctant to communicate publicly on issues as important as data protection and AI. It is also regrettable that Nestlé, Novartis and Roche, the three largest stock market capitalisations in Switzerland, persist in not participating voluntarily in the Ethos survey, despite the importance of these issues, particularly in their sectors of activity”.

According to the study, 42 out of 50 companies have stated they have designed a cyber security strategy, compared with 34 in 2022.

Swiss companies tend to now be aware of risks concerning private data collection, and almost all have a public and easily accessible data privacy policy, as required by European law, it added.

Results included in the study, and based on public information only, which reflect companies’ level of transparency, have also increased. The average is 15.6 points in 2023, compared with 11.2 points in 2022 and 8.5 points in 2021.

The foundation has decided that from next year will assess companies’ digital responsibility practices using only publicly available information, the same method used to assess ESG practices, it said.

This year, EthicsGrade analysts found public information on cybersecurity strategies of 39 companies this year, 25 more than in 2021, and information on at least 40 companies using measures to reduce the environmental impact of digital technologies, compared with just eight in 2021, the report added.

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