A SURVEY commissioned by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has revealed the public would like to see better business ethics in Hong Kong companies. This echoes the agreement by the Conference on Business Ethics last week that the business sector should continue to improve standards. In a telephone survey of 673 members of the public earlier this year, 81.3 per cent of respondents thought the ethical conduct of a company would affect their decision to buy goods and services from it. Furthermore, 95 per cent of respondents would be more likely to buy from a company if its ethical standards were considered high. The figures were confirmed by a related finding that 94 per cent of respondents said they would be less likely to buy if the ethical level was considered low. ''Frankly, I am a little surprised by the exceedingly high priority consumers attach to business ethics when exercising their right to choose,'' said Eddie So, director of the ICAC's community relations department, which is spearheading a business ethics campaign. ''This just goes to prove that business organisations have a lot to lose for ignoring ethical conduct.'' In the same survey, respondents were asked about their confidence in a company if it had a corporate code of conduct. Nearly 80 per cent said their confidence would be enhanced or greatly enhanced. ''This is a strong accolade for the Government's code of conduct initiative,'' Mr So said. The ICAC was asked by Governor Chris Patten to conduct the business ethics campaign by assisting all publicly-listed companies and about 2,000 major companies employing more than 100 staff to adopt codes of conduct. At the Conference on Business Ethics, organised by six major chambers of commerce last Wednesday, Mr Patten said a company's good name was one of its hardest assets to acquire and one of the easiest to lose. Mr So said the conference provided the best possible kick-start for the ICAC's follow-up work in urging companies to adopt corporate codes of conduct. The department has produced a guidebook on how to formulate, implement and enforce codes and will distribute it to all listed and major companies it intends to contact. More than half (54.1 per cent) of the survey's respondents cited corruption and bribery as the type of activity that would do the most damage to Hong Kong's international image. Other activities included tax evasion, counterfeit products and money laundering. Sixty-four per cent of respondents perceived the ethical level in Hong Kong to be only moderate. The conference agreed that a fundamental tool for self-regulation was a corporate code of conduct. Almost 40 per cent of the respondents thought that channels of complaint against unethical business practices in companies were inadequate. Mr So said this meant companies who adopted codes of conduct had to think through on enforcement instead of just plastering one on the wall. ''A channel of complaint could take the form of an ethics office within a company, or a designated senior officer,'' he said. ''This perhaps explains the responses to another question in the survey on means to prevent unethical activities. We found that 56.6 per cent of respondents thought more prosecutions would be the most effective, while a significant minority (26.9 per cent) thought that self-regulation by individual companies would be effective. ''This tallies with the call made on Wednesday by the conference that self-regulation is a key to fighting corruption and that it is not enough to just abide by the law,'' said Mr So. If companies were in doubt as to how best to implement a corporate code of conduct, the ICAC was always ready to offer free, confidential and practical consultancy, he said.