14 January 2016 | By Holly Hardisty Insight

What 2015 told us about business trust

Insight: Holly Hardisty, principal policy adviser, The Great Business Debate, CBI

The Great Business Debate team looks back over 2015 and the events that shaped attitudes towards business. 

From Mark Zuckerberg’s announcing he would be giving away 99 per cent of his shares in Facebook to the diesel emissions scandal, there was no shortage of events in 2015 that helped shape our attitudes towards business.

We saw businesses surpass Lord Davies’ voluntary target for 25 per cent women on boards. And on YouGov’s recent BrandIndex, banks and financial institutions accounted for half of the top 10 brands that had improved their reputation.

In a year that also Business in the Community’s #RBWeek and our own #bizdebate trending, what did we learn about trust and has anything changed?

Overall, there’s work still to be done on trust

Of all the research looking at attitudes towards business, the consensus for 2015 seemed to be that there had been little or no change in attitudes within the last year.

For example, research by Ipsos MORI found that only a third of people (32 per cent) would trust business leaders to tell the truth – half the number that would trust any ordinary person on the street (62 per cent). That’s a small decline on the previous year, and no change in comparison with 1993.

The annual Edelman Trust Barometer shows a similar story: business trust among informed publics has hovered above 50 per cent since 2013. Although trust has fluctuated over the years – knocked by the 2008 crisis, for example – rising consumer expectations mean businesses know it remains an issue they must address.

Business can do more to communicate its value

Despite individual company efforts to rebuild customer trust, the business community also understands it needs to go further and get involved with the conversation about its contribution to the economy and society.

The CBI’s Great Business Debate saw this in research around tax and profit in 2015. For example, business paid just over £175bn in tax in 2014/15 – which, at 29 per cent of all taxes, is the largest contribution from any group of taxpayers.  Yet despite such a significant contribution, the popular perception of business tax arrangements remained far from positive.

Working with Ipsos MORI, polling for the Great Business Debate found that the public undervalues the business’ tax contribution and overestimate how much Corporation Tax goes unpaid. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of the respondents claimed to have boycotted a product or service because of a company’s behaviour on tax. Yet 43 per cent said that businesses clearly explaining the amount of tax they pay would increase their trust as responsible taxpayers.

Transparency is clearly the right place to start – and this is something the CBI advocates in its Statement of Tax Principles.

There is appetite for a conversation

Overwhelmingly in 2015 the Great Business Debate team witnessed an enthusiasm for dialogue about business and what it does. In particular, this was seen at our live debates: with 3,000 trainee teachers participating at our debate with Teach First, and events at University College London, Birkbeck and a webinar with Sky News.

With around half of 18-24 years olds yet to make up their minds about business – having neither a strong nor poor level of trust in it, according to our YouGov survey – this kind of engagement matters. If the business community can effectively reach out and raise awareness of the positive role that business can play, it can help win the trust of the next generation of consumers and employees.

For the latest opinion from individuals and organisations on the issue of business trust, visit