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New research reveals high levels of public distrust in business

A major new nationwide public survey released today (17 March), highlights the extent of public distrust in business and the need for businesses to communicate better with the public to regain that trust.

The nationally-representative survey of more than 2,000 people, undertaken by Ipsos MORI, was commissioned by international support services and construction company, Interserve Plc, to better understand public sentiment towards big businesses and the roles they play in UK society.

The Interserve Society Report – the first in an annual series of research reports sponsored by the company, examined public attitude to big business in relation to four specific areas: community engagement; treatment of employees; the environment and financial performance.

Key findings of the research include:

Community engagement

  • More than 80% of respondents cannot think of a single big business that contributes positively to their local community.
  • 69% (of those expressing an opinion) do not believe that big businesses are keen to make a contribution to their local community.
  • 66% of respondents think that big businesses need to better communicate their positive community contributions to the general public if they are to rebuild trust.

Workforce learning and development

  • Only 48% of UK employees believe they receive sufficient training and development.
  • 1 in 6 believe that big business provides sufficient opportunities for apprenticeship .
  • Training and development is the single most important consideration (other than pay) when considering a future employer.

Environmental performance

  •  76% of the UK public is in favour of a punitive pollution tax for major polluters
  • Fewer than 1 in 3 believe that big business takes a responsible attitude towards the environment
  • Nearly two thirds (63%) of respondents rate a big business’s environmental performance/credentials as important

Financial performance

  • The general public believes that making profits for shareholders is, by a large margin (52%), senior executives’ priority for the existence of big businesses.
  • Only 20% of respondents do not believe that big businesses which act responsibly will perform better in the long-term.
  • How fairly a large business treats its customers ranks as the number one priority for the general public, with 48% citing it as the most important factor when it comes to purchasing goods/services with a company.

Interserve chief executive Adrian Ringrose, said:

“Much has been made of the fragile relationship between big business and the communities we serve, and it’s evident from this research that we have some distance to go if we are to start to repair the damage which has been done over recent years. This report will make uncomfortable reading for many, but it’s an important piece of work which must be taken seriously.”

Stephen Howard, chief executive, of the charity Business in the Community (BITC), which works with business to create a fairer society and a more sustainable future, said:

“These findings highlight that businesses must both work much harder to rebuild trust and be more vocal in articulating the positive contribution they are already making to society.

“Every day a growing movement of responsible businesses are making a positive difference; be this through helping disadvantaged people into work; supporting entrepreneurs to grow their businesses or creating products that drive a sustainable future for us all. Yet much of this activity is invisible to customers, employees and the wider public.

“I would like to see more businesses communicating publicly about their value and purpose. That is why we have created Responsible Business Week next month, an annual platform for business to share how it is building a fairer society and more sustainable future all year round.”


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