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The Quick & Dirty: Trust Me (and Other Corporate Lies)

Henk Campher headshotWords by Henk Campher
Investment & Markets
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Full transparency: Our 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer is out. But I am not going to enunciate further on this study. Just follow the link and see for yourself. You’ll find facts, figures, graphs, insights, trends and all that good stuff I know you will like.

What I am more interested in talking about are a few things that you won't find in the details of the study -- the hidden truths that emerge when you add a sustainability lens to the information. Why aren't companies trusted by the public?

Trust isn't rocket science. You don't have to over analyze why there is a lack of trust in this world. Look at what is right in front of the average person, and ask yourself if you would trust business if the shoe was on the other side.

1. Why should I give a damn about you? What is your purpose? Do you think your purpose as a company is to make a profit? Guess what? No one buys your product or uses your service because you want to make a profit. If your purpose is to make a profit then we are not on the same side, because your profit does not profit me.

Would you trust someone who tells you he wants to have a relationship with you, but then also tells you that his purpose is based on how he can exploit the benefit you bring to him? Profit is an outcome of being a business but not your purpose. It is an outcome of a solid relationship between you and the public but not the reason why I should trust you. And, frankly speaking, making profit your purpose is pretty silly, as it would be like me saying my purpose is breathing. No, that is a result of me being human. Profits is a result of being a business. So, remind me again why should I give a damn? What is your purpose? Why should I trust you?

2. It is completely unacceptable that the top 1 percent in this world own nearly half of global wealth. According to Oxfam, that 1 percent will own half of the world's wealth by 2016. You get that? No one but the 1 percent believes that is fair or okay. And guess what most of those '1 percenters' have in common? They are at the top of the pile when it comes to business. Every now and again you will hear a true business leader like Warren Buffet say that this isn't right. But, 99.99 percent of the time, the 1 percent are either crickets or defend the wealth gap through op-eds or lobbyists. You can't seriously think people will trust a system and institution that results in this widening, extreme inequality. Do businesses care? No, they don't. Go have a look at whether this made the World Economic Forum's list of biggest challenges or impacts on the world economy today ... I'll give you a hint -- the answer start with "n."

3. We talk about people as consumers instead of people, partners, communities, etc. Businesses see these people as units that consume their products or services and not as real people with individual tastes, likes, behaviors, etc. If you see people as a commodity, you dehumanize them. And people get that. Again, will you trust an institution that sees you as a means to an end? There is no true engagement in this relationship. Consumers are seen as people to talk to and not with. At best you will engage them about the things you are interested in and not what they are interested in.

4. Businesses are constantly asking to pay lower taxes and/or get subsidies. Don't say you don't. Apart from the large companies who do get subsidies, almost every food company benefits from the U.S. addiction to corn -- heavily subsidized. These are often the same businesses who will speak out against providing health care or fight any regulations that hold them more accountable. Do you seriously think it is fair that the richest of the rich own most of the world, pay little taxes and get subsidies? If you do, then you seriously do not get how trust works.

5. You don't look after our interests. Go and have a look at why companies pay lobbyists. They pay lobbyists to protect their corporate interests even if it might not have a societal interest. Even those companies who do lobby for some good issues tend to spend way more money on lobbying for things that have little societal benefit. And then they want to hide it by not saying how much they are giving and to whom. Through these actions, the business world is telling the public that it cares more about itself than them. Again, this is not good for trust. Relationships are meant to be based on what is good for both parties, otherwise it's simply a transaction.

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There are many reasons why the world does not trust companies, but these are a few that stick out for me. But they also beg the question: Why are certain companies trusted?

Why do people trust Ben & Jerry's? Because it's a company that stands up for what we all believe. Why do people trust Patagonia? Because it's a company that will sometimes do things that seem to hurt its business in the short term -- but are good for society. Why do we trust Levi's? Because instead of telling us it's the perfect company, its leadership is constantly trying their best. Why do people trust Tesla? Because the automaker is transparent and open about its challenges and willing to lead into the unknown. Why trust Chipotle? Because the company told us it made a huge mistake and honestly looks like it's trying to fix the problem. Why trust Warren Buffett? Because he is a real person who knows his assistant should not pay a higher tax rate than him.

Learn from these and many others. But more importantly, stop complaining you aren't being trusted and then not really do anything about the issues I raised earlier. Change behavior or accept that you will be less trusted while other businesses thrive.

Trust me... It will work [Pun intended]. We don't want to not trust you. But trust must be earned, and most businesses just simply don't deserve to be trusted.

Image credit: Flickr/Terry Johnston

A series of quick & dirty opinion pieces by Henk Campher. Senior Vice President, Business + Social Purpose and Managing Director of Sustainability at Edelman (www.edelman.com) out in the Wild West of San Francisco.  Disrupter of purpose. Engineer of big ideas. Slayer of myths. Social media junkie – @angryafrican. He never wears ties. Ever. But always wears an accent with a strategy and opinion in his back pocket. Please note this series will not focus on individual companies and any reference is purely to provide color commentary. His new book, Creating a Sustainable Brand is available here.

Follow Henk Campher on Twitter.

Henk Campher headshotHenk Campher

A series of quick & dirty opinion pieces by Henk Campher out in the Wild West of San Francisco. Disrupter of purpose. Engineer of big ideas. Slayer of myths. Social media junkie - @angryafrican. He never wears ties. Ever. But always wears an accent with a strategy and opinion in his back pocket. Please note this series will not focus on individual companies and any reference is purely to provide color commentary. He wrote a book once.

Read more stories by Henk Campher