The proportion of people that think business is behaving ethically since 2012 has improved (Reuters)

Worries about tax avoidance have shot to the top of public concerns about business behaviour, replacing executive remuneration by a wide margin, according to a new survey.

The latest poll of public opinion on business ethics, which was conducted by IPSOS Mori for the Institute of Business Ethics, revealed 37% of respondents thought tax avoidance was the main concern that businesses need to address - compared with 30% citing remuneration.

The IBE said this shift pushed remuneration out of the top slot for the first time in six years.

"These results could indicate that business has clawed back some of the public trust lost in the wake of the financial crisis," said Philippa Foster Back OBE, IBE's director.

She added: "But confidence remains fragile with a year on year increase in those saying that business is less ethical than it was ten years ago.

"Tax is also now clearly a reputational issue and has risen very rapidly up the scale. Trust cannot be taken for granted."

The survey also found the ability of employees to speak out about company wrong doing was rated the third most significant concern at 22% with business attitudes to the environment and human rights coming in significantly lower at 16% and 15% respectively.

In addition, the research revealed the proportion of people that think businesses are behaving ethically since 2012 has improved - bringing it back in line with 2011 figures.

The report also found there has been a rise in the proportion of people saying businesses are behaving less ethically than in 2003.

A majority (59%) of respondents when asked whether business generally behaves ethically said it did, compared with only 48% in last year's survey (and 58 % in 2011).

But there has been an increase of seven percentage points to 35% in the numbers of those who believe that business behaviour is less ethical now than it was ten years ago.

The IBE said the findings show that older people aged 55 and above are more likely to think that business is not behaving ethically than younger people are.