No, Business Is Not the Most Trusted

Trust in Institutions

As global leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting to discuss how we can solve our most urgent challenges, rebuilding trust is at top of the agenda. Yet there is a prevailing view that business is the most trusted institution – but is it really? GlobeScan has been tracking trust in institutions for over 20 years and we have a different story to tell, with important implications for how businesses respond to societal expectations.

GlobeScan has been measuring societal “thick trust” in institutions in our annual global public surveys across 30+ countries since 2001 (with an average sample size of n=1,000 per country). The question asked by GlobeScan is how much trust people have in institutions like global companies, governments, and others “to operate in the best interest of our society.” We have intentionally gone beyond transactional trust, trying to capture a deeper sense of trust between society and these institutions.

Contrasting the prevailing view that business is the most trusted institution among the public, GlobeScan’s research instead finds that global companies, as well as large national companies, continue to rank relatively low on being trusted compared to other institutions like scientific and academic institutions, NGOs, the UN, and foundations.

Bar chart showing Net Trust in institutions, average of 31 Countries, 2023

Although net trust in global companies (“a lot of trust” and “some trust” minus “not much trust” and “no trust at all”) tends to be positive, meaning that people are more likely to say they have at least some trust in global companies than they are to say that they have not much or no trust at all, the level of trust is far lower than that of other institutions. At the global level, 57 percent of people have at least some trust in global companies (vs 43% distrust) compared to 84 percent who trust scientific and academic institutions (vs 16% distrust), while 71 percent trust NGOs (vs 29% distrust).

There are also large variations across regions and between emerging and highly industrialized markets. People in emerging markets are much more likely to say they trust global companies (69% trust vs 31% distrust) compared to people in developed countries (45% trust vs 55% distrust). Europeans are particularly distrustful (40% trust vs 60% distrust) while people surveyed in Africa and the Middle East tend to express very high levels of trust in global companies (75% trust vs 25% distrust).

Line chart showing Net Trust in Institutions, average of 16 countries 2001-2023

In 16 countries tracked over time, we see that trust in global companies has grown over the past two decades from a +1 net trust rating to +11 today. Trust in global companies remains far below that of science and academia, NGOs, and the UN (but ahead of national governments and media).

The continuing low trust that people across the world have in business shows that companies need to work in partnership with scientists/academia, civil society, and governments to create a social license to lead on solving our greatest societal challenges.

GlobeScan administered the 20-minute online survey to approximately 1,000 adults per country in each of the 31 countries and territories, except Hong Kong, Kenya, Nigeria, and Singapore where it was administered to 500 adults in each, and the USA where it was administered to 1,500 adults. The total sample was 29,565 adults. 

The survey was translated into local native languages (English in Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Singapore, and South Africa).  All translations were proofread to ensure that the content was properly and completely translated with terminology suitable to the responding audience and ensuring that the text flows smoothly and naturally in each language.  

Using stratified sampling from non-probability but managed online panels, samples are largely representative of the online population and weighted to the latest census data with the aim to be as nationally representative as possible. In some developing markets, the ability to weight to be nationally representative is limited by the extent of internet penetration (e.g., Kenya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam). Data collection took place in July and August 2023.