Public trust in business falls dramatically

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Corporate tax avoidance remained the top public concern about business behaviour in 2016

The British public’s opinion of business behaviour has worsened dramatically, according to a survey from the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE).

Faith in business behaviour is down 11 percentage points in 2016 compared with 2015. This means it is back to 2012 levels and just a percentage point higher than when the survey began in 2003, with less than half (48%) believing that business behaves ethically.

Corporate tax avoidance remained the top public concern about business behaviour, chosen as the area of most concern by 43%. Over a quarter (28%) were most worried by executive pay, and a further quarter (26%) cited exploitative labour.

Philippa Foster Back, IBE’s director, warned businesses to take note. “This result should serve as a wake-up call to British business that it must do more to restore public trust,” she said. “The fact that the number of those who are concerned about corporate tax avoidance has increased and remains the top public concern is an example where business is not doing enough to address ethical issues.”

Protection of customer data and data privacy become a top five issue of concern for the first time, with 16% citing this as a problem. Foster Back explained that consumers were becoming more aware of risks.

“Addicted as we are to our smartphones and social media, consumers are becoming more aware of how vulnerable their personal data is, and are looking to business to protect and reassure them,” she said. “Business needs to address this as a matter of urgency, as we see this as being potentially the biggest threat to corporate reputation in the coming years.”

Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, group director of HR for investment management company Charles Stanley, said ethical behaviour should be “a given”.

“In the modern environment, especially in financial services, ethical behaviour is crucial,” she told HR magazine. “It seems a shame that as a sector we now have to be monitored and measured, by regulators and legislation, when ethical behaviour should be a given, as it is here at Charles Stanley. But, as the report shows, the public has lost its faith and trust in British business and the men (and few women) at the top.”

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