How business became our most trusted institution

Posted in News on 09 February 2021 By Harriet Palmer, Analyst

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer, surveyed against the backdrop of the pandemic, evidences an important shift in the role of business in society.

Are businesses doing the right thing?
Do we trust our governments?
How much are NGOs really benefitting society?
Are the media pedalling misinformation?

These questions are understandable in the wake of the pandemic. The action taken by businesses, governments, NGOs and media in light of COVID-19 has been under the closest scrutiny in years. How these institutions are addressing issues and the subsequent economic and social turmoil is paramount to maintaining public trust or, in some cases, losing it.

Edelman, a global communications firm, released the findings of their annual ‘Trust Barometer’ last week, the results of which combine survey responses from over 33,000 participants, across 28 markets worldwide, to gauge public perception of trust and confidence in the four institutions. The results make for illuminating reading and have sparked a larger conversation about the shifting role of business in society.

Edelman’s CEO, Richard Edelman cited three key takeaways from this year’s barometer findings. Two of which include the dramatic ‘fall from grace’ of China and the US, and the rise of misinformation reported by the media. However, the third and perhaps most surprising discovery was that businesses emerged as the most trusted of the four institutions. While overall trust scores declined across all four groups, businesses scored significantly higher than any other institution listed. The data also highlighted that businesses were perceived as being more ethical and competent than both governments and the media.

More compelling still, participants felt business leaders ought to step in when governments and media fail in their duties: 86% say they want CEOs to speak up about sustainability or systemic racism and two thirds say they want CEOs not to wait for government before acting’.

Businesses are now viewed as closer to NGOs in terms of their ‘ethical’ score, demonstrating the shift from traditional capitalism to a more equal, purposeful and sustainable business model, backed by growing support from the investment community. This provides an interesting insight into public perceptions and how business leaders are expected to lead the way to a sustainable and diverse future.

The clear and decisive message emerging is that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government and policymakers to impose changes upon them. Now is the moment for business to step up and into the void left by media and governments and do so through straight talking, clarity of message and purpose. How businesses respond to this call to action remains to be seen, but it is certainly going to be a trend to watch as we navigate the ‘building back better’ landscape of 2021.

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