To be sure, it’s not just business leaders who have fallen out of favor, according to public relations firm Edelman, which claims there has been an “implosion of trust” across the institutions of government, business, media and non-government organizations.
Since 2001, the company has released a global trust barometer, which, this year, was based on interviews with more than 33,000 people across 28 countries.
It found that CEO credibility dropped 12 points globally this year to an all-time low of 37%, with steep falls recorded in every country studied. Politicians, however, were still less trusted, eking out a credibility score of just 29%.
The business world’s credibility was shaken by the global financial crisis of 2008, but “like the second and third waves of a tsunami,” globalization and technological change only have worked to harden public disillusionment, according to Edelman CEO Richard Edelman.
A lack of respect for authority meant respondents found “a person like yourself” (60%) to be just as credible a source of information about a company as a technical expert or academic—and far more credible than a CEO (37%) or government official (29%).
The one bright takeaway for CEOs was that respondents selected business as the only remaining institution that could make a positive difference in their lives. Still, business was also perceived as a key source of their fears, including losing their jobs. The main potential causes of job loss they cited were globalization (60%), lack of training or skills (60%), immigrants who work for less (58%), jobs moving to cheaper markets (55%) and automation (54%).
Many CEOs are beginning to grasp the need to better explain how advances in technology will impact people’s jobs. The Business and Sustainable Development Commission, for instance, has just released a report to coincide with the World Economic Form in Davos claiming that companies across all sectors must operate “fundamentally differently” or risk jeopardizing their businesses.
The group is made up of 35 business, finance and labor leaders, including Alibaba CEO Jack Ma, Merck CEO Ken Frazier and Unilever CEO Paul Polman. Sprinkling a little corporate social responsibility on top of a company strategy isn’t doing enough, the commission’s chairman, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, said.
“This is about a transformation of business to acknowledge that globalization in its current form has left a lot of people behind and spread its benefits unevenly,” he said. “And that is no longer politically sustainable.”