Edelman has released it's 2009 Trust Barometer and, as always, it is essential reading.
It can't come as a surprise that trust in corporations is at an all time low and it certainly doesn't seem like a stretch to suggest that this lack of trust is simultaneously a cause and effect of the current global economic meltdown.
As always, there is a lot of good reading to be done through reviewing the entire document but a few of the highlights (or, perhaps, lowlights…) are that:
- there was a 20% plunge in their sample's trust in businesses to do what is right. Mind you, that would be a huge enough issue but remember that the figure was already at an alarming 58% previously. Now it sits at a terrifying-but-hardly-surprising 38%.
- Only 27% of their sample felt that information coming from a government official was credible and 29% felt it was credible coming from a corporate CEO. (That latter figure drops to a mere 17% when looking at the U.S. sample of 35 to 64 year olds.)
- Globally, 62% of their sample said that they trust corporations less in the last year than the year before and remember, this is relative to the year before. We're talking about a level of trust that was already heading south out and has simply continued to fall.
Though these figures shouldn't be big surprises, sometimes it's helpful to have some specific support and metrics for what we simply presume to be true.
As one of the innumerable steps needing to be taken to somehow quell the current economic crisis, trust in companies needs to be restored. Mind you, this was already a problem of significant magnitude prior to the meltdown but it's now gone from being a really good idea to an essential component of the equation. The foundation for increasing that trust? A fundamental shift to cultures of unbending ethics in those companies. Among so many other things, this means not just promoting corporate social responsibility as a PR tool but a true, systematic and system-wide shift in how these companies do business. (And, of course, this also requires coming to the realization that CSR, in itself, in no way means that there is a culture of ethics. CSR programs are an extension of corporate ethics – and an entirely optional one at that – not a substitute for them.)
Will all this be easy to do? Certainly not. But it'll beat the pants off of going under which is what so many of these companies face doing unless they make the shift to to functioning with highly, conspicuously, and persistently ethically-based operations.