Ebola, air disasters hit trust in institutions: Edelman

A rash of unforeseen events in 2014 has left trust in global institutions at six-year lows, according to a new survey released on Tuesday.

The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer - released to coincide with the beginning of the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos - surveyed 27,000 people from 27 countries using 20-minute online interviews.

The results of the annual survey - which is now in its 15th year - revealed an "alarming evaporation" of trust across governments, businesses, media outlets and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Trust is now below 50 percent in two-thirds of the countries surveyed.

Office buildings in New York
Timur Emek | Getty Images
Office buildings in New York

"The spread of Ebola in West Africa; the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, plus two subsequent air disasters; the arrests of top Chinese Government officials; the foreign exchange rate rigging by six global banks; and numerous data breaches, most recently at Sony Pictures by a sovereign nation, have shaken confidence," Richard Edelman, the president and CEO of Edelman, said in a statement accompanying Tuesday's report.

The missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 went missing in late December 2014 off the coast of the island of Borneo. Wreckage and bodies have since been recovered and have added to a series of air disasters last year including two major incidents for Malaysian Airlines. The Ebola virus has also spread from Africa to several Western nations and in technology, several high-profile data breaches have hit firms including Sony and Apple.

Trust in businesses declined in two-thirds of the countries surveyed, compared to last year, and is now below 50 percent in 11 countries -- the worst showing since 2008 -- the Edelman survey said. The largest drops occurred in Canada, Germany, Australia and Singapore. The decline in the trust of the CEO as a credible representative of a company continued for the third consecutive year, the poll found, with trust levels now at 31 percent in developed markets.

"Globally, CEOs and government officials continue to be the least credible sources, lagging far behind academic or industry experts," the survey highlighted. It also noted that the media as an institution is distrusted by 60 percent of countries, and for the first time, online search engines are now a more trusted source for general news and information.

Edelman also noted that trust issues are hindering acceptance of technological advancements. A majority of respondents said that innovation was happening too quickly and that it was being driven by greed and the need for further business growth. Only 24 percent of respondents thought that technological advancements are being used to make the world a better place.

"Innovation should be a trust accelerator, but today it is not," Edelman said. "To invent is no longer enough. There must be a new compact between company and individual, where companies demonstrate that innovations are safe based on independent research, provide both societal and personal benefit and are transparent about the use of customer data."