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Business trusted after all!

Posted by Paul Seaman in Media / The Good Corporation / Truth & Trust on 14 April 2008

Why we posted this: This long-running and credible survey has useful surprises and flaws. 

The original story:
Business More Trusted Than Media and Government
Trust Barometer 2007

An extract from the press release:

Business is more trusted than either government or media in every region of the globe, according to the eighth annual Edelman Trust Barometer.

Business is more credible than government or media in 13 of the 18 countries surveyed in 2007. The survey also found that more respondents in 16 of 18 countries felt that companies have more of a positive impact on society than a negative impact.

In the United States, 53% of respondents report trusting business, which marks an all-time high for the survey. This is a recovery from a low of 44% in 2002, which came in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom debacles. In the three largest economies of Western Europe, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, trust in business stands at 34%, which is higher than trust in media and government at 25% and 22% respectively. The 2007 survey marks the lowest levels ever of trust in government across these three European countries.

In Latin America, represented in the survey by Brazil and Mexico, trust in business is at 68% while trust in media stands at 62% and government at 37%. Asian trust in business is 60%, while government and media are both at 55%. China, Japan, India, and South Korea represent the Asian nations in this year’s survey.

In three of the four fast-growing developing nations known as the “BRIC” countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), business is trusted more than government, media or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In China, business is trusted by 67% of respondents but trails government, which is trusted by 78%.  Russia, where the survey finds respondents tend to be much less trusting of institutions generally, is the only BRIC country where a minority of respondents, 39%, trusts business, but they trust it more than government (32%) or media (35%).

In the 2007 survey, (NGOs) are either the most credible institution or tied for the most credible institution in 10 of 18 countries. This puts NGOs even with business, which also leads or ties for most trusted in seven of 18 countries. In the 2006 survey, NGOs were the most trusted in seven of 11 nations surveyed.

livingissues comment:
This survey is extensive, credible, thought-through with a well-explained methodology. It is good news that the comparative data shows that confidence in business is being restored following the likes of Enron, WorldCom and similar scandals. It is heartening that traditional news sources are still trusted more than blogs. However it is worth interrogating how the researchers measure things that are not actually comparable. It is also worth asking whether it provides an accurate description of reality. Take the concept of trust.

Edelman reports that people trust a “person like me” most on deciding what they believe to be true. It is an insight for the Web 2.0 age. It gets complex when we ask “believe in what”? We still trust scientists, doctors, airline pilots, lawyers, judges and other professionals precisely because they are “not like me” but have specialist knowledge and skills. That’s why we take global warming seriously, for instance.

We also trust airlines to operate airlines; we put our faith in them every time we climb on board a plane. But we would not trust an airline to run a country or even a protest group or vice versa. The trade unions once tried to run both companies and countries, losing society’s trust in the process. Of course the opinion of one of these groups on the others can effect their reputation and licence to operate. So though we trust them to do different things our faith in them is, as Edelman says, interconnected. Take opinions.

Just as physicists find it impossible to measure simultaneously both the velocity and position of objects accurately, the very act of asking people value-laden questions inevitably distorts the response. Meanwhile, the corporate world runs a more reliable pay-to-enter poll at the checkout counters where billions of participants use their own money to make choices that make a difference to their lives; the results are richly contradictory as befits a global market economy. Now let’s look at fashionable ideas.

Dissidence is a trendy passport to polite society. It helps promote brands even. Voicing “socially-acceptable” opinions to pollsters about so-called corporate bad and acceptable behaviour, or how to fight global warming, is entirely consistent with modern-day culture and something different all together from abandoning what fulfills our wants and dreams in the real world. Hence the continuing popularity of cheap air travel, cheap energy, Wal-Mart, fast cars and more for those with the cash.

So making assumptions about how “undertaking ‘socially responsible activities’ is universally seen as the most important action an organization can to do to build trust”, is not that insightful or useful because it does not help define the content, limits or meaning of what that statement would constitute in practice. For instance, in Zurich, Switzerland, a city run by Greens and socialists, there is an annual Bank Holiday to allow adults to watch children compete to see who is the best shot using real guns. It is sponsored by the Zuercher Kantonalbank. Organizing such a city-wide celebration of gun culture among youth in London and Manchester, England, would be regarded as being worse than just socially irresponsible.

That said, this survey helps identify some of the right buttons to push for major institutions to retain or win back trust. This survey is the one to watch to get a snapshot of how we say we view the issue of trust year-on-year on a global scale.

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