Global public supports free market, less favourable to global business—can CSR heal wounds?

As 2013 begins, the leadership of various international bodies is changing, with Ireland assuming the presidency of the EU, a clutch of nations joining the UN Security Council, and the UK taking charge of the G8. Despite the shifts in power apparent in the global system, the G8 remains a formidable grouping, and British Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to put free trade at the heart of the British G8 Presidency.
In some respects Mr Cameron has chosen his moment well. In the G8 countries for which GlobeScan has long-term polling on this subject, support for the global free market was on the rise in 2012. Support has seen a sharp rebound among Canadians following a large dip in 2011, has continued to rise among Americans, and has seen a slight uptick in Cameron’s own UK. Even in France, traditionally less supportive of the free market than other G8 countries, we have seen a rise in backing over the past two years. Only in Germany do we see a drop in support in 2012. Despite these increases, however, those professing faith in the free market remain a smaller proportion in all of these countries than in 2002.

Most counties belong to some free trade agreement, whether NAFTA, the European Union, Mercosur, or ASEAN, and examining the attitudes of other nations toward free trade and global businesses is instructive. Ironically, Communist China is among the most pro-market countries surveyed, on a par with the US. In the US, as in many countries polled, much stronger support is expressed for the free market than for one of its main beneficiaries, global business. This pattern is most notable in India, where despite the uproar caused by moves to liberalize access to the retail sector for foreign players, 61 percent express support for the free market—while only 49 percent trust global companies to act in society’s interest. The Spanish, meanwhile, have the least faith in both global companies and the free market, attitudes that could pose problems given Spain’s pivotal role in the EU, the world’s largest free-trade bloc.
It would appear that support for free trade is not synonymous with support for global business, and that while various cultural or social factors may combine to create pro-free-market majorities, peoples’ suspicions about the motives or impacts of multinationals may cancel out the perceived benefits of international trade. Though the global public remains essentially pro-market, the multinationals that stand to benefit from this commitment should seek to gain from this reserve of goodwill by strengthening their own relations with communities.
Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2012 
This post was written by former GlobeScan Research Director, Sam Mountford.