A season of distrust


The 2020s start with sinking confidence in governments, businesses, media and NGOs.

We are worried about our future, don’t expect to be better off in five years’ time, feel a growing sense of inequity and unfairness in the system. Recently discussed at World Economic Forum in Davos, Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2020 points out the rooted distrust that marks our time: more than half of the survey respondents (about 34 thousand adults from 28 countries) believe that capitalism is doing more harm than good in the world, while 83% fear losing their job due to the looming recession, delocalisation, automation and the gig economy.

Whom do we trust, in this gloomy scenario? No big changes occurred in the last twelve months, as none of the four societal institutions the study measures – government, business, media and NGOs and media – stands out both for competence and ethics, the two dimensions that primarily influence trust.


Source: Trust Barometer 2020, Edelman

Governments deserve the most severe criticism. 57% of the interviewees say governments serve the interest of only the few; 66% feel political leaders are not prepared to win global challenges; 61% believe they can’t understand emerging trends (including new technologies) to properly manage and regulate them. Media are blamed for not being able to contain fake news (76% worry about fake news being used as a weapon) and failing to improve the quality of information.

Businesses continue to be the most trustworthy institution: 58% of the interviewees trust them, at the same pushes companies to move beyond their commercial interest and take serious responsibilities in tackling climate change, promoting the ethical use of technology, contributing to a fair and inclusive society.

There is a strong call for corporate activism, as 92% of employees say CEOs should speak out on political, societal and economical issues, and 75% would like businesses to take the lead on change without waiting for governments to impose it.

Trust in businesses is also bound to their ability to walk the talk, actioning their purpose. More than 80% of respondents believe that it is the duty of business to pay decent wages, or provide retraining for workers whose jobs are threatened by automation. Yet less than a third of people trust that they will do these.

Businesses are thus challenged to prove otherwise, and communicators to tell the story.