Trust in Business Leaders at Low as Davos Begins

Davos, Switzerland.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As business leaders from across the world prepare to touch down in Switzerland and head up the mountain for their annual pilgrimage to the World Economic Forum in Davos, a new survey has revealed that just 18 percent of the public trusts business leaders to tell the truth.

Government leaders scored even lower; just 13 percent of respondents surveyed for the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer expect them to tell the truth, regardless of how complex or unpopular it is.

Less than one in five people believe business and government leaders can be trusted to make ethical and moral decisions, the survey of some 30,000 people showed, with confidence particularly low in France and Germany.

Edelman attributes the lack of confidence in leaders' ability to tell the truth as well as high-profile scandals involving CEO and government officials, including former McKinsey managing partner Rajat Gupta, former Chinese government official Bo Xilai, and the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

The technology and automotive sectors were the most trusted sectors while banks and financial services were the least trusted sectors.

The public relations firm said this lack of trust was driven by poor performance and the perception of unethical behavior.

"We're clearly experiencing a crisis in leadership," Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman said.

The results will add to pressure on leaders at Davos to rethink their business models and seek greater input from consumers, non-governmental organizations and employees.

Banks in particular have struggled with the public's disillusionment with the sector and are being urged to abandon risky investment strategies that do not benefit their customers.

"The financial services industry must become more aggressive in explaining its business model and do away with terms such as 'proprietary trading'," said Alan VanderMolen, president and CEO of global practices at Edelman. "Stakeholders have to understand how banks are making money and how the industry is working to benefit its shareholders and society."