Trust in CEOs, business and the government has fallen in Australia the last year amid economic pessimism and inequality, yet business is seen as the only ethical and competent institution, with consumers looking to CEOs to take a stand on social issues, according to the local survey findings of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2023..
Trust in business slumped by four per cent to 54 per cent between 2022 and 2023. Trust in government fell seven points to 45 per cent and trust in CEOs fell four points to 39 per cent.
Overall, Australians have lost five points in total trust over the past year in the combined ranking of business, government, NGOs and the media, according to the survey (down to 48 in the 2022 survey from 53 in 2021).
Only 30 per cent of Australians believe they will be better off financially in five years, down 13 points from 2021, a marked slump in economic optimism as inflation rages globally and interest rates surge.
CEO of Edelman Australia, Tom Robinson, said: “This year’s Barometer reveals that Australia is heading down an alarmingly divisive path, but there is still opportunity to correct course before we end up in severely polarised territory like some of our Western counterparts.”
“Distrust in government and media, combined with a lack of shared identity and fears around what the future might hold have led us to this place. As a direct result, business is under heightened pressure to lead the way back to unity and trust.”
According to the survey, business remains the only institution seen as competent and ethical. Since 2020, the ethical score for business has jumped by 28 points, due to actions taken by business and leaders during the pandemic.
The expectation for business to take a stand on social issues is putting even greater onus on CEOs to lead the change and be visible in doing so. In Australia, CEOs are expected to publicly take a stand on the treatment of employees (91 per cent), climate change (78 per cent), discrimination (75 per cent), the wealth gap (74 per cent) and immigration (66 per cent).
To achieve this, business must be a reliable source of trustworthy information. This was found to be the number one trust builder in the 2022 Trust Barometer and is seen as the top way for business to address societal issues without being seen as political – something that 46 per cent of Australians still believe is possible. In addition, 72 per cent of people expect CEOs to defend facts and expose questionable science used to justify bad social policy.
In terms of employers, 75 per cent of those surveyed locally said they trusted their employer. Sixty-three per cent said they bought or advocated for brands based on their beliefs or values. And 69 per cent said when considering a job they take into account the societal impact of the business.
In Australia, trust rose in only three different sectors: technology, entertainment, and consumer packaged goods (brands).
“The data is clear in calling out the imbalance between trust in business and government, however the Barometer does indicate that if the two entities work together, we are significantly more likely to see constructive action taken to address these divisions,” said Robinson.
In wider findings, the survey reveals that Australia is on a path to polarisation, driven by a series of macro forces that are weakening the country’s social fabric and creating increasing division in society. This year's report finds that almost half of Australians (45%) say the nation is more divided today, than in the past. The rich and powerful are identified as the major dividing force (72%), followed by hostile foreign governments (69%), journalists (51%), and government leaders (49%).
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