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Trust crisis deepens

Number of trusting countries falls to lowest level – survey.

SWELLENDAM – One could be forgiven for believing that the world is at war. Not a conflict between major powers but a war of many battles with many different contexts. As an avid follower of news for at least half a century, I cannot remember a time when news was so preoccupied with such a widely scattered number of violent conflicts, protests and public disturbances.

It is tempting to see each in isolation and disavow a broader common context. But that could be a mistake. Groups are to an increasing extent being marginalised and polarised and while each conflict arena takes shape in its own context, the thing that they all share is that radicalisation is for the most part rooted in despair, in frustration and in an environment where aspirations become increasingly difficult to achieve, while expectations are inflamed by a variety of forces, the most attractive of which is religious fundamentalism.

So it was not surprising that the 2015 Edelman Trust research just released at the WEF in Davos, found that the number of trusting countries fell to the lowest level ever recorded by its barometer, with informed publics in only six of 27 countries surveyed expressing trust levels above 6%. Once trusting countries, such as Malaysia and Canada, fell into neutral, and the UK, South Africa, Hong Kong and South Korea slid from neutral to distrusting status. “Among the general public, the trust deficit is even more pronounced, with nearly two-thirds of countries falling into the distruster category.”

South Africa has maintained its dubious position of having the biggest gap between informed trust in business and trust in government. This has widened again with trust in business improving marginally to 64% and trust in government falling to 16%.

According to Edelman government was the only institution to gain trust in 2015, after improvements in 16 countries. India gained nearly 30%; Russia, 27%; and Indonesia, 19%. Despite its overall rise, government is still the least trusted institution globally. Informed publics in 19 of 27 countries distrust government to do what is right.

At the other end of the spectrum, NGOs saw the largest decline in trust. NGOs maintained their status as the most trusted institution, but what is clear, says Edelman, is that the trust is fading. In 70% of surveyed countries, trust in NGOs fell or remained at equal levels to the previous year.

Trust in business varies among different types of business – and developed versus developing countries. In developed countries, family-owned businesses outrank big business in trust by nearly 30 percentage points. In contrast, in developing countries, big business is more trusted than a family-owned enterprise by six percentage points.

The media, the second least trusted institution, also experienced a decline in trust coupled with a continued greater dispersion of sources. In 15 countries, media experienced declines, with some as sharp as 18% (Hong Kong), 14%

(Argentina) and 11% (Canada and Singapore). While trust in media increased in 12 countries, no country registered gains as great as these losses. Years of newspaper layoffs and staff buyouts are taking their toll on public trust. Trust in search engines outranks traditional media sources by 8%.

When it comes to individual source credibility, experts and a “person-like-yourself” are twice as credible as CEOs. Government officials and regulators are the least trusted of all individual sources. In three-quarters of countries, CEOs are not viewed as credible spokespeople. This is particularly pronounced in the developed world, where trust levels hover 10 points below the global average. Here, 70% of respondents do not perceive the CEO to be a believable source of information about a company. The picture is far different in the developing world, where CEO credibility is 30 points higher, at 61%.

This year’s survey report focused specifically on innovation and technology. Surprisingly it found that for the most part today’s pace of development and change by business and industry is perceived as being too fast – 51% say innovation is too fast; 19% feel it is just right. At least 55% agree that new developments are not tested enough. However, trust levels vary widely. Trust in electronic and mobile payments is 69%, as compared to trust in genetically modified foods, which is just above 30%.

Building trust confirms my often repeated message of having a purpose other than pure profit maximisation. Edelman says: “Approximately half of respondents attribute increased trust in a business to the fact that a business enabled them to be a more productive member of society. Forty-seven percent say it is because the business contributed to the greater good.”

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