A Project of the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society

Confidence In NGOs On The Rise

Ethical Corporation

February 13, 2006

By Blair Coursey

Edelman, the largest independent PR firm, has for the last seven years been surveying around 2000 opinion leaders worldwide each year for their views on trust in business, government, media and NGOs.

The results make interesting reading for those concerned with business reputations, particularly in light of the explosion of the corporate social responsibility movement in recent years.

AdvertisementIn 2005, Edelman asked 1950 opinion leaders from 11 countries for their views on the current state of trust in the four sectors. The findings show that although trust in corporations is relatively strong in the US, UK, Canada and Japan, the relative levels have remained fairly stagnant since 2001.

Perhaps as importantly, trust in NGOs is growing.

In the US, for example, such regard has increased 13 percentage points in the past five years. Trust in business has also grown in the US by five points since 2002.

Low results for 2002 and 2003 can be attributed to the corporate governance scandals that were receiving media attention at that time.

Post-scandal fallout

As the dust settles surrounding the Enron scandal, and with the WorldCom court case resolved in 2005, the trends into 2006 and 2007 may make interesting reading.

In Europe, however, trust in business has dropped three percentage points since 2002, according to the opinion leaders surveyed by Edelman.

From 2004 to 2005, trust in NGOs across Europe went up by only one point, but throughout the Edelman Barometer's existence, Europe has had a consistently strong confidence in civil society groups.

Trust in the media has fallen in both the US and Europe (down five percentage points in the US and six in Europe).

In the US, standards scandals in recent years, such as that of Jayson Blair at the New York Times are likely to have caused this fall, alongside the accusations of corruption in Republican media made towards the end of 2005.

In Europe, many speculate that the lack of trust may be at least partly due to press emphasis on celebrity gossip and aggressive selling as newspaper circulations fall.

In the UK, newspapers are consistently selling between 3% and 5% fewer copies each year.

Corporate trust varies nationally in the Edelman results, with Japanese participants trusting business most (66%) and French participants trusting it least (28%).

About half of respondents from a majority of nations represented said they trusted business as a whole.

That said, a recent World Economic Forum survey found corporate trust at its lowest since January 2001 and, like Edelman, named NGOs the global trust leaders.

Education online

Representatives from Edelman and the wildlife charity WWF told Ethical Corporation that internet accessibility is having a dramatic impact on public trust in institutions.

Companies are now being forced to pay closer attention to public demand, particularly in relation to their social responsibility, say both organisations.

But the opinion leaders surveyed for the Edelman Barometer said the top three corporate attributes that drive trust are quality products and services, attentiveness to customer needs and fair pricing.

Emphasis on socially responsible activities was ranked number six.

Solitaire Townsend, managing director of Futerra, a UK sustainability communications consultancy, says that although corporate attitudes to social responsibility can directly affect consumer buying patterns, they do not necessarily result in the increased trust of a company as a whole.

The correlation between social responsibility and corporate trust, according to Townsend, comes down to company ideologies.

If CSR is built into a company, then it will make a difference in trust, she says, noting that an added-on social responsibility programme is not as effective in gaining the public's confidence.

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. NGOWatch is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of NGO accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.