Business is most trusted in a polarized world, report says

People around the world are gloomier about their economic prospects than ever before and trust business far more than other institutions like governments, nonprofits and the media in an increasingly divided world, according to a survey by public relations firm Edelman.

Released late Sunday to coincide with this week’s World Economic Forum gathering of business and government leaders in Davos, Switzerland, the online survey of 28 countries shows fewer people believe their family will be better off in five years.

Those who believe they will get better fell to 40% from 50% last year and hit an all-time low in 24 countries. That’s because 89% fear losing their jobs, 74% worry about inflation, 76% worry about climate change and 72% worry about nuclear war.

The Edelman Trust Barometer also says 62% of respondents see business as competent and ethical, compared to 59% for non-governmental agencies, 51% for governments and 50% for the media. This has been attributed to the way companies have treated workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and the return to offices, as well as many companies pledging to leave Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

People continued to say that they distrusted CEOs, as well as government leaders and journalists, while they trusted their corporate executives, co-workers and neighbors. Scientists are trusted the most — as many as 76% of respondents.

“The increased level of confidence in business brings with it greater expectations than ever for CEOs to be a leading voice on social issues,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. “By a six-to-one margin, respondents want greater corporate social involvement on issues such as climate change, economic inequality and workforce reskilling.”

But companies face major conflicts jumping into these topics, with 52% saying companies cannot avoid politicization when dealing with divisive social issues, he said.

Despite the uncertainty, people want companies to stand up for them: 63% say they buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values.

Most respondents say businesses should do more, not less, to tackle climate change, economic inequality and other issues.

This is happening because social divisions have become entrenched, creating a polarized world that has left people feeling unable to overcome their differences or even willing to help others who do not share their beliefs, the research says.

Less than one-third of respondents said they would help, live or work with someone who strongly disagreed with their views. Six countries – Argentina, Colombia, the US, South Africa, Spain and Sweden – were listed as severely polarized, driven by mistrust of government and a lack of shared identity.

If divisions are not resolved, people fear the result will be worsening prejudice and discrimination, slower economic development and violence on the streets, the report said.

More than 40% of respondents to the survey believe that governments and businesses must work together to solve social issues, and the onus is on the most trusted institution – business – to bring people together.

A majority of respondents — 64% — said companies that support politicians and media outlets that build consensus would help increase civility and strengthen society.

In its 23rd year, the Edelman Trust Barometer surveyed more than 32,000 people online in 28 countries from Argentina to Saudi Arabia to the US from November 1-28.

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