Time for business (and brands) to step up


Business is now the most trusted institution globally, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer which shows it overtaking NGOs for the first time, while governments have squandered the trust people placed in them during the first months of the pandemic; media remains least trusted.

Headline figures: Business is trusted by 61% of respondents (33,000 in total across 28 countries); people’s trust in their own employers is even higher at 76% – placing new responsibilities on them as a credible information source. NGOs are trusted by 57%, government by 53% and media by 51%. Business is now the only institution that is seen as both competent and ethical.

A trust reckoning 

“The most powerful countries in the world have lost trust capital,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of the eponymous PR company, launching the report. “China is distrusted by almost everyone in the world … The US at 40% is the lowest number we’ve seen.” The governments of the UK and Germany, meanwhile, scored 53% and 61% respectively. Trust levels for companies headquartered in these countries followed a similar pattern.

The pandemic has accelerated persistent fears about things like job security and climate change and led to a further decline in trust in societal leaders. Apart from scientists (73%), trust is only high among those who are close to the respondent, whether that’s people in their local community (62%) or their employer CEO (63%).

The ‘infodemic’ 

Search has the highest level of trust at 56% (down nine points over two years), while traditional media stands at 53% (down 12 points in two years). Social media, the subject of so much current debate in the US, hit a new low of 35%.

“We really distrust our information sources,” said Edelman. “We don’t trust who’s speaking, and we don’t trust the information sources either.”

Incredibly, employer media turns out to be the most believable: “a corporate newsletter or publication is more believable than the national government, mainstream media or social media.”

The new expectations on business

“Business has to embrace its broader mandate … stepping into the void left by government,” Edelman suggested. That means taking a lead on everything from systemic racism in jobs to infrastructure and sustainability.

“Lead with facts and act with empathy,” he advised; understand too that while “the media is the fundamental partner in truth”, business “must intervene if there is falsehood in social”.

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