Edelman Trust Barometer highlights growing distrust in SA

Busisiwe Mavuso, the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, said there was a growing expectation for local CEOs to be vocal about some of the issues that South Africa was going through. Picture: Supplied

Busisiwe Mavuso, the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, said there was a growing expectation for local CEOs to be vocal about some of the issues that South Africa was going through. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 20, 2024

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Edelman South Africa highlighted that there was a growing distrust while presenting its 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer report for the country. However, business was seem as the most trustworthy.

The barometer, now in its 24th year, was conducted via a survey in November last year with an average of 1 150 respondents from each of the 28 countries where the report was run, including South Africa.

In terms of trust among citizens, the report generally found that developing countries had greater trust than developed ones. South Africa fared slightly better this year than 2023. However, the most concerning findings were around how citizens viewed government institutions and leaders.

There was little trust in government leaders and institutions as some 82% of respondents perceive the government, 70% saw business leaders, and 69% viewed journalists and reporters as “purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations”.

Business leaders were viewed as more trustworthy, which is why Edelman believes that greater collaboration between the public and private sectors was needed in order to make our citizens more trusting of figures of authority.

Karena Crerar, the CEO for Edelman Africa, noted in the report that business was most trusted to introduce innovation into society, with an emphasis on partnering with the government.

“CEOs need to safeguard jobs and take a stand on emerging ethical concerns. It is crucial for leaders to ensure that technological advancements are aligned with societal needs and values, fostering a future where innovation promotes inclusivity and sustainability,” Crerar said.

Busisiwe Mavuso, the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, said local CEOs needed to be vocal as there was a growing expectation for CEOs to speak out about some of the issues that South Africa was going through.

“I think as business and CEOs we need to do a better job of nailing our colours to the mast. My biggest frustration is that I do not think business is assertive enough when it comes to a whole lot of issues that I think we should be spearheading as business in this country.

“For some reason we tend to tip-toe around issues and I do not know whether shareholder interest has got a lot to do with it or being worried about the impact this has on our businesses might have something to do with it. We tip-toe a lot, especially, around calling government out when we need to and taking a stand on important issues when we need to,” Mavuso said.

She added that they did not get the issue of being candid right all the time.

“That is compromising business in a significant way. I really think that as far as taking the societal issues on and being more vocal about those is really about transition into this broader mindset shift of assuming stakeholder capitalism and conscious capitalism versus shareholder capitalism, making sure that we really understand that we have a very huge obligation around making sure that the ecosystem within which we operate as business is our responsibility as well and not just taking care of the shareholder interest.

“I think it is a function of lack of interest because we are worried about the impact of that on the share price … If we do that shift as business we would be well on our way towards taking our rightful space in the societal environment as it were,” Mavuso said.

To restore trust in the promise of innovation, the company said implementation was important as mismanaged innovations were as likely to ignite backlash as advance society. With breakthroughs like AI, vaccines, and green energy on the line, explaining the science and managing impacts was essential.

It said science must integrate with society. Scientists were still trusted but increasingly subject to public scrutiny. To build trust in expert recommendations, it said they should explain the research, engage in dialogue, and harness peer voices as advocates.

BUSINESS REPORT