Business has overtaken government as the world’s most trusted institution, according to the 2021 edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer. (Edelman, 13 January 2021)
With more than 33,000 respondents around the world contributing to this year’s report, the global PR firm’s latest gauge of where humanity’s trust resides puts business at 61% and government at 53% – the latter having sunk by 11% since Edelman checked in with interim figures in May last year.
Interestingly, business is the only institution that respondents have deemed both competent and ethical, with its ethics rating approaching that of NGOs. Its competency rating is even more impressive, outscoring government by a whopping 48 points.
Indeed, business-related trust crystallises when it is framed in local terms: respondents have awarded ‘my employer’ a trust rating of 76% and ‘my employer CEO’ one of 63%, showing that workplaces and their leaders are providing workers with a powerful anchor for trust amid turbulent times.
And with those times firmly in mind, the figures must be considered against the backdrop of the Barometer’s broader theme: that the human race has effectively declared ‘information bankruptcy’.
Respondents’ trust in key information sources has slumped to record lows, with traditional media falling by 8% year on year to 53%, search engines falling by 6% to 56% and owned media and social media each falling by 5% to lowly ratings of 41% and 35% respectively.
As such, the Barometer indicates that the biggest opportunity for business to earn further trust lies in safeguarding information quality: communications from ‘my employer’ are currently the most trusted source of information at 61%, beating sources within national government (58%), traditional media (57%) and social media (39%). Some 53% of respondents believe that corporations must fill information voids in subject areas where the news media is absent.
In a statement, Edelman CEO Richard Edelman said: “The events of this past year reinforced business’s responsibility to lead on societal issues, such as upskilling workers and racial justice. It has also led to new expectations of business expanding its remit into unfamiliar areas, such as providing and safeguarding information.”
What should leaders take away from this year’s edition of the Barometer?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The standout finding for me here is that trust in business has increased. While our own research on trust has tended to focus on the relationship between employees and managers, the complexity inherent within networks of organisations has sparked a rising demand for trust between all stakeholders.
“As consumers, we want to trust our chosen products and services. We want to trust that we’ll get what we’ve paid for. Increasingly, we’re paying online, and we want to trust the security of the various websites and payment platforms we use. We want to trust that our data isn’t going to be misused or mismanaged.”
Cooper notes: “A Unilever announcement issued today effectively serves as a handshake between the company and its customers, who want to trust that the firm’s value chains are being ethically sourced and managed [Unilever Press Office, 21 January 2021]. With its pledge that every worker within those chains will receive a living wage, Unilever is setting out its stall as a good employer: an important sign of trustworthiness.”
She adds: “The public need for trust is increasing, and it’s great that business is responding to that need. In Unilever’s announcement, the company’s CEO Alan Jope said: ‘We believe the actions we are committing to will make Unilever a better, stronger business ready for the huge societal changes we are experiencing today.’ The message for leaders could not be any clearer: ultimately, it makes good business sense to build a brand and organisation that people can trust.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on integrity