The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Annual Study made for uncomfortable reading. Edelman shows that trust is very much in crisis amongst the general public right across the world. In fact, trust in all four of the major institutions: business, government, NGOs, and the media has fallen.

This decline in trust goes a long way in explaining the volatile political climate we find ourselves in. From Brexit to Trump to the election in France of a completely unestablished political party and president, the political world has gone from the safe predictable centre ground to a situation where we almost expect the unexpected.

It seems, certainly according to Edelman, that many people have lost faith in the idea of a system that works for them. This has led many to question all sorts of things, from globalisation to the pace of innovation to the erosion of social values.

It is certainly not a simple, black and white issue but what we have seen in the last couple of years are people’s concerns turning to fears. When that happens, we see a rise in populism. That is exactly what has been witnessed in several democracies across the globe recently. We have entered a new age of political extremism.

With people losing trust in business, the question has to be asked: What is the role of business in this new age of political extremism?

Many people believe that business can be – indeed needs to be – a bigger force for good in society. In our recent podcast, Joanna Allen, Unilever’s Global VP at Hellman’s agreed. She explained: “I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with the Edelman team who led the trust barometer… and I think it was really interesting to see that, you know, in the context of the political situation that we’re all operating in you know in business actually is secondary to NGO’s in terms of levels of trust.”

She went on to suggest that while government continues to kind of be really significantly challenged, it’s exacerbated.” This is an interesting point and one that will be covered at the forthcoming IGD Leaders’ Forum in October.

One of the topics of the forum will be Reshaping Governments. The debate will address four key questions: How should the business world now engage in politics? Are businesses part of the problem, causing disaffection with ‘the establishment’? Do businesses need to step up and fill a void? Can business be a bigger force for good in society?

Industry leaders will be joined by leading experts, such as Fiona Dawson, Global President Food, Drinks and Multisales, Mars and David Goodhart, Author of ‘The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics’. The session will provide the opportunity for debate, questions and audience voting, concluding with recommendations for action.

As Edelman suggest: “to rebuild trust and restore faith in the system, institutions must step outside of their traditional roles and work toward a new, more integrated operating model.”

The need for business to be a force for good is certainly something that Joanna Allen feels strongly about. As she explained: “it’s one of the many reasons many people join Unilever. From its very foundation Unilever is a business that talks about value and values, so the perspective that we can have this kind of compounding growth model that benefits all stakeholders not just investors.” Many experts are of the belief that people (and the fears they have) must now be placed at the center of everything a business does.

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