Trust in business bosses jumps as social media become the biggest bogeymen

Jasper Jolly
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The British public trusts company boards more than they did last year (Source: Getty)

Business leaders have enjoyed a surprise turnaround in public trust, according to a prominent survey of Britons’ faith in institutions – although social media companies have become the new bogeyman.

The credibility of chief executives has improved by 14 percentage points during the last year, with 42 per cent of more than 3,000 Britons surveyed by US public relations firm Edelman saying they trust bosses.

At the start of 2017 the annual survey found trust across the world in chief executives fell to an all-time low of 37 per cent, but business leaders have staged an unlikely comeback. Board members have also gained significantly, with a 10 point swing towards more credibility, although overall levels of trust in firms remains relatively low, with only 43 per cent of Britons saying they trust business.

Read more: Navigating the post-truth world: How can businesses can earn trust?

Executive pay was the biggest barrier to trust of business, with 58 per cent saying it is a problem. Concerns firms are not paying enough tax came a close second, ahead of a lack of transparency.

Social media firms have had a particularly difficult year, with only 24 per cent of the British public saying they trust them, and only a third saying social media are good for society.

Seven in 10 Brits believe social media firms do not do enough to stop illegal or unethical behaviour on their platforms, with extremist content a particular issue.

Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter are trying to recover from a “flood of negative headlines”, according to Ed Williams, chief executive of Edelman UK. “The public want action on key issues related to online protection, and to see their concerns addressed through better regulation. Failure on their part to act risks further erosion of trust and therefore public support.”

Read more: "Shorter, sharper" corporate governance code welcomed

Charles Bowman, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, who has campaigned to improve trust in companies, said the survey shows that “business has a lot still to do”.

“We in business need to work tirelessly and constantly in earning the trust of the society we serve, and demonstrate that the UK continues to invest in being the trusted cluster of choice for global business,” Bowman said.

Meanwhile, the reputation of government has had a worse time in recent years than business, with the proportion of Britons expressing trust remaining at just 36 per cent, the same level as 2017. However, Londoners are significantly more trusting in government, at 50 per cent.

Read more: Lord Mayor calls for City of London to help restore trust in business

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, has seen a 13-point increase in the proportion of people who say they trust him, although Prime Minister Theresa May remains just above him in the trust rankings.

Will Walden, head of government relations at Edelman UK, said: “Distrust is now the default position. Politics doesn’t matter to people in the way it once did. What matters is a sense of accountability and follow-through, delivering on policy promises that help ordinary people, and communicating honestly and transparently.”

And finally, in a sign the newspaper industry may not be dead yet, trust in journalists leaped up by 13 percentage points to almost a third.

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