Citizens around the world trust business more than they trust either government or the media, according to the eighth annual Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey of 3,100 opinion leaders that measures trust in institutions, corporations, and sources of information in 18 countries. The survey found that business is more credible than government or media in 13 of the 18 countries surveyed and that more respondents in 16 of 18 countries felt that companies have more of a positive impact on society than a negative impact.

In the United States, 53 percent of respondents report trusting business, an all-time high for the survey and a recovery from a low of 44 percent in 2002, in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom debacles. In the three largest economies of Western Europe—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—trust in business stands at 34 percent, which is higher than trust in media and government at 25 percent and 22 percent respectively. The 2007 survey marks the lowest levels ever of trust in government across these three European countries.

In Latin America, represented in the survey by Brazil and Mexico, trust in business is at 68 percent while trust in media stands at 62 percent and government at 37 percent. Asian trust in business is 60 percent, while government and media are both at 55 percent. China, Japan, India, and South Korea represent the Asian nations in this year’s survey.

In three of the four fast-growing developing nations known as the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), business is trusted more than government, media or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In China, business is trusted by 67 percent of respondents but trails government, which is trusted by 78 percent. Russia, where the survey finds respondents tend to be much less trusting of institutions generally, is the only BRIC country where a minority of respondents, 39 percent, trusts business—but they trust it more than government (32 percent) or media (35 percent).

In the 2007 survey, (NGOs) are either the most credible institution or tied for the most credible institution in 10 of 18 countries. This puts NGOs even with business, which leads or ties for most trusted in seven of 18 countries. In the 2006 survey, NGOs were the most trusted in seven of 11 nations surveyed.

“Business is seeing a rebound in trust because of strong economic growth, visible consequences for executive malfeasance, and success in solving problems facing society.” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “Business has a clear opportunity to assume a leadership role on major issues, from climate change to privacy.”

Individuals “like me” are the most trusted spokespeople across the European Union, North America, and Latin America. In Asia, ordinary people are second to physicians. For the second consecutive year, “a person like me” or a peer is the most trusted spokesperson in the United States at 51 percent. And peers are tied with doctors as the most trusted messengers across the big three economies of Europe, at 45 percent.

While business has regained trust, CEOs are trusted by only 18 percent of opinion leaders in Europe’s three largest economies (the United Kingdom, France, and Germany), the lowest rating ever recorded in the survey within this group of nations. In the United States, 22 percent of respondents trust CEOs. In the United States, 36 percent trust an average employee, while in the three largest economies of Europe 28 percent trust these employees, making rank-and-file employees more trusted than CEOs in both the United States and Europe.

“The growing trust in ‘people like me’ and average employees means that companies must design their communications as much on the horizontal or the peer-to-peer axis as on the vertical or top-down axis,” says David Brain, CEO of Edelman Europe. “CEOs should continue to talk with elites, such as investors and regulators, but also provide critical information to employees and enthusiastic consumers who spur the peer-to-peer discussion. Third parties with credentials, like academics and physicians, are also critical.”

Other key findings include:
• Five years after Wall Street’s stock research scandals, trust in “stock or industry analyst reports” in the United States is 47 percent, up from 26 percent in 2003. In 12 countries, stock or industry research is either the most credible or second most credible source of information about a company.
• In 11 of 18 countries, business magazines are the most or second most trusted source of information about a company.
• In many countries, “conversations with friends and peers” is as trusted a source of information about a company as “articles in newspapers” or “television news coverage.” For example, within the nine European Union countries surveyed, 44 percent trust conversations with friends and peers while 33 percent trust articles in newspapers.
• In every region (EU, Asia, North America, Latin America), respondents most often named “shares a common interest with you” as one of the top three characteristics that would increase their trust in a person sharing information about a company. In no region did religion, race, or nationality list among the top three attributes of a peer.
• Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have grown in stature dramatically in Asia. Trust in NGOs in China has increased from 31 percent in 2004 to 56 percent today; from 42 percent in 2005 to 55 percent in Japan; and from 39 percent to 46 percent in South Korea in the last 12 months.
• At least 70 percent of respondents in North America (71 percent) and Asia (72 percent) state that global business plays a role that no other institution can in addressing major social and environmental challenges. Fifty-seven percent in the European Union and 63 percent in Latin America also believe this to be true.
• Trailing only “providing quality products or services,” undertaking “socially responsible activities” is universally seen as the most important action an organization can to do to build trust. “Socially responsible activities” surpassed providing “a fair price for products or services,” “attentiveness to customers” and “good labor relations” in most markets.
• For the third straight year, American brands operating in Europe continue to receive a trust discount. For example, McDonald’s is trusted by 60 percent of respondents in the United States and by only 26 percent across the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. However, American brands are trusted in the developing world, with McDonald’s trusted by 75 percent of Chinese respondents and 66 percent of Brazilian respondents.

The survey found that multinational brands receive significantly more trust in their home country. The United States gives top scores to UPS (83 percent). In France, the second-highest trust score is Danone (69 percent). In Japan, the highest score goes to Nissan (79 percent), and in India it is Tata (89 percent).

Technology is the most trusted sector in each region. The industry is trusted by 79 percent of Asians, 80 percent of Latin Americans, 72 percent of Europeans, and 75 percent of North Americans. The biotechnology and healthcare sectors also receive high trust marks globally.

Companies headquartered in Sweden and Canada are the most trusted globally; Brazilian, Mexican and Russian companies are the least trusted.

Traditional media sources such as newspapers, TV, and radio remain more credible than new media sources such as a company’s own Web site and blogs.