NGOs top public trust ratings, poll shows

Public trust in Europe and in the US is higher for NGOs than for
politicians, business leaders and the media, shows Edelman’s annual
“Trust Barometer” survey. Food for thought for Davos
meeting?

Edelman’s fifth annual “Trust barometer” shows public confidence
in NGOs outpacing that of governments, businesses and the
media.

Published on 25 January the survey shows that NGOs are trusted
by 55% of Americans (up from 47% a year ago) and 45% of Europeans
(up from 41%). 

By contrast, less than three in ten in both regions believed
business leaders such as CEOs or CFOs to be reliable sources of
information. This trend is markedly higher when examining
Europeans’ opinions towards individual US companies. Coca-Cola, for
instance, has a trust rating of 69% in the US versus 45% in Europe.
McDonalds is trusted by 58% in the US but by 25% only in Europe.
This trend is branded by Edelman as “trust discount” towards US
corporations operating in Europe. 

In addition, Edelman says that more than 40% of opinion leaders
in Canada, Europe and Brazil are “less likely” to purchase US
products because of the Bush administration.

According to Edelman, NGOs now fill a “trust void” in
governments, businesses and the media and are now “the most trusted
institution” in every country surveyed, except China.

Top of the rating list, however, are relatives and peers. “A
person like yourself” experienced the highest jump in credibility
both in the US (from 22% to 56%) and in Europe (from 33% to
53%).

Other top trusted people – in all regions – include doctors or
healthcare specialists, who are seen as having no vested interest
in the welfare of a company (56%), and academics (49%).

On the media scene, the internet is increasingly viewed as a
trustworthy source of information, rising from 12% to 19% in the
U.S and from 9% to 13% in Europe. News articles in general are
believed to be more reliable than advertising for 90% of the people
in all regions.

Edelman organised a debate with several stakeholders at the
European Parliament on 25 January to preview the results of the
survey. A central topic was the so-called "trust discount" suffered
by US companies in Europe and the role played by NGOs in shaping
public opinion. EURACTIV reports.

"The continuing deluge of scandals has caused a dramatic shift
in how opinion leaders gather and assimilate information,"
said Richard Edelman, President and CEO,
Edelman. "The trust void and democratisation of information compels
corporations to fundamentally rethink their approach to
communications. You can't buy trust by speaking at audiences
through advertising. CEOs need to engage stakeholders in a very
personalised way, through local media and in direct dialogue via
the Internet, empowering employees while using credible third
parties as spokespeople."

The Secretary General of the Brussels-based
think-tank Friends of Europe, Giles
Meritt, said "NGOs live on a trust capital which may disappear.
They will face trust issues and are lobbyists like others". Meritt
said the issue of trust in itself would be worth exploring further.
Trust, he argues, "should mean political integrity and not just
image".

Jim Murray, the director of the European consumers'
organisation
 BEUC, said that NGOs
are outsiders in the US but insiders in Europe, which explains why
they are more trusted in the former (55%) than in the latter (47%).
Murray thinks the issue of "trust discount" in US companies that
can be witnessed in Europe is to be related to "the political
agenda of US companies" such as their attitude towards the WTO and
WHO.

Steven Kehoe, vice-president of government affairs
at Pepsi Europe, said US companies "do suffer
a trust discount" but are "acutely aware of it and do a lot to have
a good record". Kehoe said NGOs "play a useful role: they keep us
honest!" What corporations need to do, he added, is to implement
their values at local level.

Robert Madelin, from
the Commission's   health
directorate
 (DG Sanco), said he
believed a link exists between risk and trust. He asked how could
trust in a company reduce distrust in a technology (such as GMOs).
Richard Edelman's answer is to "build trust in a technology and
process before advertising new products and brands".

Edelman's fifth annual "Trust Barometer 2005" was carried out
via 1,500 telephone interviews with opinion leaders in eight
countries (US- 400; UK, France and Germany- 150 each; China- 200;
Canada, Brazil and Japan- 150 each).

Opinion leaders are defined as being between 35-64 years,
university educated with an income of more than $75,000 or
equivalent and report "a significant interest and engagement in the
media, economic and policy affairs".

The results of the Trust Barometer 2005 were presented to
business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in
Davos, Switzerland.

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