Trust

A trusted company? (source M.Minderhoud)

A fascinating presentation this morning by the Edelman public relations company of their 2006 Trust Barometer. This is a survey of opinion around the world of the extent to which different institutions in society are trusted. The headline figure is that NGOs and business are the most trusted, and government and the media the least. This is broadly true throughout the western world, which sheds new light on the idea that people do not trust the European Union. Maybe the complaint is not that it is supranational but rather that it is government. National governments are hardly trusted, either.

One comment made by the presenter, Richard Edelman, I think I take issue with. He remarked that British attitudes appeared to be moving more similar to the American ones, as opposed to the European ones, based on the basic numbers. The data appears here:

US
UK
Europe
NGOs
54
56
57
Business in general
49
53
42
Government in general
38
33
33
Media in general
30
22
30

(Figures are percentages, data from the Edelman Annual Trust Barometer, January 2006)

And maybe in some respects it does. But there is more to “Europe” than meets the eye. It is not a single territory but a collection of different countries, each of which gives different results in this survey. They have a lot in common, but they are different. Here are the European results, by country.

France
Germany
Italy
Spain
UK
NGOs
61
37
66
65
56
Business in general
28
33
51
45
53
Government in general
32
27
39
33
33
Media in general
26
33
31
35
22

(Figures are percentages, data from the Edelman Annual Trust Barometer, January 2006)

The variation between each European country is at least as great as the variation between Europe and America. The US numbers would fit quite happily into the European table. The trust problem, and there certainly is one, is a problem I suppose of capitalist democracy rather than of the European Union as such.

There are some interesting variations that crop up, though. The most striking, highlighted in the presentation this morning, is that when it comes to the national origin of companies, American companies in Europe appear to have a “trust discount” in Europe. Major well-known American names are in general less trusted in Europe than they are at home. There are a few exceptions, such as Microsoft, which make interesting case studies, but there seems to be a European view of American business, rightly or wrongly, which holds against them the fact that they are American. Non-American companies do not face the same hurdle, except it seems for French companies in America.

There is actually a further and important exception to that last rule, which is that Japanese companies are not trusted in China and Chinese companies in Japan. There is a strong rise in nationalist feeling in both countries, and bear in mind that there has not been the same kind of reconciliation between them that has occurred between the former combatants in Europe. Public ill-feeling can undermine business confidence and hurt the trading environment. Politicians who merrily stir up nationalist and xenophobic feeling should not be allowed to do so lightly.

You can find more about Edelman here http://www.edelman.com

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