A record number of the largest US companies are increasingly competing to expand benefits and protections for their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees and consumers, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

The HRC’s Corporate Equality Index covers 446 companies and shows an unprecedented 138 major US organisations earned the top rating of 100 percent, an increase of 37 in one year and a tenfold growth in four years.

The group’s president Joe Solmonese said: “I am incredibly encouraged and optimistic about the findings in this report. Companies are not only working to improve their scores, they are actively competing to be ranked the most inclusive and fair-minded in their industry.”

The report found strong inter-industry competition for the top rating. For example last year Raytheon Co. was the only member of the aerospace industry to get a perfect score. This year, however, three of its competitors also earned 100 percent.

Four further industries saw rapid growth in companies achieving the top score. Eight law firms, five pharmaceutical companies and five consulting houses all reached 100 percent for the first time in 2006.

Daryl Herrschaft, author of the report stated “these findings reflect a common desire in organisations today to move at a heightened pace to implement fair and equal policies for LGBT employees.”

The Corporate Equality Index rated companies on a scale of 0 percent to 100 percent on several factors, including whether they have a written non-discrimination policy covering sexual orientation; support transgender employees with written non-discrimination policies and benefits, bereavement and family leave policies to employees with same-sex partners, engage in appropriate and respectful advertising to the LGBT community; and decline to engage in any activities that would undermine the goal of equal rights for LGBT people.

Despite the largely promising tone of the report, three companies still received a score of zero. They are, oil giant ExxonMobil, grocery chain Meijer Inc. and high-tech consulting firm Perot Systems. None of these companies offer even the most minimal benefits or workplace protections for their LGBT employees.