Consumers in the UK are at the very top of the global cynicism league, according to the eighth annual Edelman Trust Barometer, with trust in government, business and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) having fallen dramatically in the past year.
Trust in government has tumbled by nearly half, from 33% last year to just 16% this year. However, governments across the world are facing similar challenges, as it is generally the least trusted institution, with citizens of 13 out of 18 countries surveyed giving their government the lowest trust rating.
Businesses ahead of the game
In the UK, however, business ranks as the most trusted institution (44%) ahead of NGOs (41%), religious institutions (27%), and media (19%).
According to Richard Edelman, president and CEO for Edelman, "In every region, business is more trusted than either government or media. Business is seeing a rebound of trust because of strong economic growth, visible consequences for executive malfeasance, and success in solving problems facing society. Business has a clear opportunity to assume a leadership role on major issues, from climate change to privacy."
Socially responsible activities rank as the most important factor in the UK for building trust in business. They also rank highly within organisations themselves: listening to employees (69%) and demonstrating corporate social responsibility (50%) are more important than communicating the company's business strategy (42%) and financial performance (27%). Interestingly, British opinion leaders still see global warming (77%) as the most important issue for companies to address.
Dr Stuart Smith, CEO for Edelman London, added: "This year we have seen significant declines in trust across all sectors: business, NGOs, media and government. When compared with other countries we seem to be a national of sceptics. If companies want to build trust in the UK, this survey suggests that they will need to engage their audiences more effectively than ever before, using a full range of traditional and new media."
Other key findings of the survey included:
- The UK shows declining levels of trust in traditional and new media. However, articles in business magazines are the second most credible source of information (46%) after analyst reports (58%). They are followed closely by news coverage on the radio (45%) and on television (35%). Advertising is the least trusted information source (8%).
- Most countries surveyed see global companies as having a more positive than negative impact on society, with the exceptions being the UK and Germany.
- In the UK, trust in companies headquartered in all the countries included in last year's study dropped significantly. This includes British trust in UK companies, which declined from 79% to 66%. Nonetheless, trust in UK companies still ranked highly, coming second after Swedish companies (68%).
- Opinion leaders in the US believe they have a special relationship with UK companies, giving them a score of 74% - a higher level of trust than they have in their own companies (69%). But when it came to the British view of US headquartered companies, the score was only 31%.
- The developing world puts more trust than the developed world in all institutions except NGOs. NGOs are equally trusted in the developed and developing world.
- The developing world is more trusting of all sectors except healthcare (57% in developing world vs 63% in developed world).
- Technology is the most trusted sector globally.
- In the UK, technology (67%), healthcare (62%) and entertainment (57%) are the most trusted sectors, while energy (34%), insurance (27%) and media (21%) are the least trusted.
- Rank-and-file employees are more trusted than CEOs in both the United States and Europe.
- A 'person like myself' and 'a doctor or healthcare specialist' are the most trusted people in the developed world (both at 52%).
- In the UK, the credibility of a 'person like myself' is influenced by shared interests (72%) while same gender (7%), religion (6%) and race/ethnicity (2%) are far less important.
- Britons are more likely than any other nationality to criticise companies they do not trust when talking to people they know, and to ignore distrusted companies' attempts to communicate with them.