Should We Trust the Edelman Trust Barometer?
Implications for NGOs, Business, Government, and Media
The Edelman Trust Barometer is an annual gauge of the international population’s trust in business organizations, governments, and the media. The Edelman Trust Barometer is published by Edelman, the world’s largest independently owned public relations firm.
The Edelman Trust Barometer is a score that measures the average percent of trust in institutions like NGOs, business, government, and media. It is essentially a global measurement of trust around the world.
Trust is indicated by positive sentiment expressed over time regarding a brand's ability, dependability, integrity, purpose and personal relevance, that is based on personal experience with that brand.
The Edelman Trust Barometer believes that it is the ultimate currency in the relationship that all institutions — business, governments, NGOs and media — build with their stakeholders. Trust defines an organization's license to operate, lead and succeed. It is a well-respected measure of trust and a reliable picture of the components as stated in the 2023 report.
What are the 3 levels of trust?
Levels of trust in the workplace are indicated by three levels that define a specific relationship with a person in the workplace.
- Level 1: Governance and Rules-Based Trust.
- Level 2: Experience and Confidence-Based Trust.
- Level 3: Established and vulnerability-based trust.
The most trusted institution is business at 61%, ahead of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at 59%, government at 52% and media at only 50%. Seventy-seven percent of respondents, however, trust "My Employer," making the relationship between employer and employee significant.
Characteristic Traits of Behavior
The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that business is now viewed as the only global institution to be both competent and ethical. Business now holds a staggering 53-point lead over government in competence and is 30 points ahead on ethics. Its treatment of workers during the pandemic and return to work, along with the swift and decisive action of over 1,000 businesses to exit Russia after its invasion of Ukraine helped fuel a 20-point jump on ethics over the past three years. Business (62 percent) remains the most and only trusted institution globally.
"The increased perception of business as ethical brings with it higher than ever expectations of CEOs to be a leading voice on societal issues," said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. "By a six-to-one margin, on average, respondents want more societal involvement by business on issues such as climate change, economic inequality, and workforce reskilling.
The involvement of business in socially-desirable activities has garnered support among the publics worldwide in part because of the recent emergence of specialized reporting— Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing. ESG refers to a set of standards for a company’s behavior used by socially conscious investors to screen potential investments.
Environmental criteria consider how a company safeguards the environment, including corporate policies addressing climate change, for example. Social criteria examine how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights.
This year's report finds that economic optimism has collapsed globally (50 percent to 40 percent), with half of the countries surveyed showing a year-over-year double-digit decline in the belief that their families will be better off in five years' time. Further, not one developed nation has over 36 percent of its people confident that their family will be better off in five years, and 24 of the 28 countries surveyed dropped to all-time lows in optimism including the U.S. (36 percent), the UK (23 percent), Germany (15 percent) and Japan (9 percent).
The Trust Barometer deems nearly one quarter of the countries surveyed as severely polarized, including the U.S., Colombia, Argentina, South Africa, Sweden and Spain. Globally, nearly two thirds observe an unprecedented lack of civility and mutual respect in society. This observed lack of civility coincides with ideology becoming identity: among those who feel strongly about an issue, less than one third of respondents say they would help (30 percent), live near (20 percent) or work with (20 percent) someone who strongly disagrees with their point of view.
Other key findings from the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer include:
- Personal economic fears such as job loss (89 percent) and inflation (74 percent) are on par with urgent societal fears like climate change (76 percent), nuclear war (72 percent) and food shortages (67 percent).
- CEOs are expected to use resources to hold divisive forces accountable: 72 percent believe CEOs are obligated to defend facts and expose questionable science being used to justify bad social policy; 71 percent believe CEOs are obligated to pull advertising money out of media platforms that spread misinformation; and 64 percent, on average, say companies can help increase civility and strengthen the social fabric by supporting politicians and media outlets that build consensus and cooperation.
- Government (51 percent) is now distrusted in 16 of the 28 countries surveyed including the U.S. (42 percent), the UK (37 percent), Japan (33 percent), and Argentina (20 percent).
- Media (50 percent) is distrusted in 15 of 28 countries including Germany (47 percent), the U.S. (43 percent), Australia (38 percent), and South Korea (27 percent). 'My employer' (77 percent) is the most trusted institution and is trusted in every country surveyed aside from South Korea (54 percent).
- Government leaders (41 percent), journalists (47 percent) and CEOs (48 percent) are the least trusted institutional leaders. Scientists (76 percent), my coworkers (73 percent among employees) and my CEO (64 percent among employees) are most trusted.
- Technology (75 percent) was once again the most trusted sector trailed by education (71 percent), food & beverage (71 percent) and healthcare (70 percent). Social media (44 percent) remained the least trusted sector.
- Canada (67 percent) and Germany (63 percent) remained the two most trusted foreign brands, followed by Japan (61 percent) and the UK (59 percent). India (34 percent) and China (32 percent) remain the least trusted.
These results raise a red flag about the future of economic growth in the sense that people fear for their economic futures. Add to that the level of distrust of government, and we can see that there is a lack of confidence that governments can make things better economically, at least in the short run.
Is it possible to elevate the level of trust in governments? Probably not, in the short run. Nevertheless, government leaders need to pay attention to the results of the Edelman Trust Barometer to ensure that they are on the right track to overcome uncertainties and a lack of confidence in their actions and behaviors.
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on February 3, 2023. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.