STAGGERING LEVELS of public distrust in big business has been revealed following the publication of a nationwide survey.
The report by FTSE 250 support services and construction company, Interserve, quizzed more than 2,000 people about their attitude to big business in relation to four specific areas: community engagement; treatment of employees; the environment and financial performance.
Among the most damning of the statistics to emerge was that 80% were unable to name a single large business which they believed made any positive contribution to their local community.
Adrian Ringrose, Interserve chief executive, said: “Much has been made of the fragile relationship between big business and the communities we serve, and it’s evident from this research that we have some distance to go if we are to start to repair the damage which has been done over recent years. This report will make uncomfortable reading for many, but it’s an important piece of work which must be taken seriously.”
On the community engagement front, the survey – conducted by Ipsos MORI – showed that almost seven out of 10 people (69% of those expressing an opinion) do not believe that big businesses are keen to make a contribution to their local community and an almost similar tranche (66%), think that “big businesses need to better communicate their positive community contributions to the general public if they are to rebuild trust”.
And when it comes to workforce learning and development less than half of UK employees (48%) believe they receive sufficient training and development opportunities.
Businesses would be wise to heed this concern given that training and development emerged from the survey as the single most important consideration (other than pay) when considering a future employer.
And just one in six of those surveyed believe that big business provides sufficient prospects for apprenticeships, while 45% feel companies do not do enough to support the unemployed. The survey results reflected wider public ill-will towards zero hours contracts.
From a financial performance perspective, the survey found that (52%) of the British public believes that generating profits for shareholders is senior executives’ main priority for the existence of big businesses.
Just one in five (20%) said they did not believe that “businesses which act responsibly” will perform better in the long-term.
Punitive pollution tax
Other key revelations to emerge are that over three quarters of British adults (76%) are in favour of a punitive pollution tax for major polluters, with 63% of respondents rate a big business’s environmental performance/credentials as important.
Yet fewer than one in three believe that big business takes a responsible attitude towards the environment. Responses suggest that the public is looking to the government to pass more muscular and punitive legislation against polluting companies to help combat the causes of climate change.
Stephen Howard, chief executive, of Business in the Community (BITC), a charity which works with business to create a fairer society and a more sustainable future, said: “These findings highlight that businesses must both work much harder to rebuild trust and be more vocal in articulating the positive contribution they are already making to society.
“Every day a growing movement of responsible businesses are making a positive difference; be this through helping disadvantaged people into work; supporting entrepreneurs to grow their businesses or creating products that drive a sustainable future for us all. Yet much of this activity is invisible to customers, employees and the wider public.
“I would like to see more businesses communicating publicly about their value and purpose. That is why we have created Responsible Business Week next month, an annual platform for business to share how it is building a fairer society and more sustainable future all year round.”