From education to employment

9 out of 10 people want business to speak on societal issues

The public want businesses to be more outspoken on the big social issues of the day according to the most recent wave of research tracking public attitudes towards business.

  • Business reputation takes 9% hit but foundations being put in place for the long-term
  • 78% of people report positive relationship with employer (up 11%)
  • 92% want businesses to speak up on the big issues impacting society
  • 54% say they understand how companies work (up 6%)

The power to improve business reputation lies firmly in the hands of business according to the CBI’s latest reputation tracker.

Last week, the CBI launched the second wave of its Everyone’s business research. In partnership with Porter Novelli and Opinium, this latest report provides brand new insight into people’s day to day relationships with business, including the issues where they want business to take a more meaningful and proactive stance on.

Read the latest Everyone’s business tracker

The role business plays in society has been in sharp focus in recent months and the research shows that several high-profile failures have had a chilling effect on business reputation since the last tracker in January 2018. The CBI’s latest research shows just 56% of people now think that UK businesses have a good reputation, down 9% in six months. This drop appears to be linked to several high-profile business failures, such as the collapse of firms like Carillion earlier this year who received significant amounts of media attention in between surveys. While this is a disappointing result, it does mean that companies have the power to change public perceptions through the actions they take.

In contrast, a greater proportion of people in work reported having a positive relationship with their own employers. 78% of employees now say they have a good relationship, up 11% since October.

One of the most striking statistics from this wave of research is the finding that 92% of the public expect businesses to speak out on key social issues. The public want businesses to be more outspoken on the big social issues of the day – from data protection to gender pay gaps, particularly when an issue is important to a company’s sector and is something employees care about.

Above all, this research demonstrates that there are certain business practices the public expects as the baseline for business behaviour. To assist with this, the CBI has published an employers’ guide to outline the building blocks behind an outstanding business reputation. The guide draws together insight from the CBI’s Everyone’s Business research to support companies of all sizes to think about their role, their behaviour, and the extra steps then can take to build an outstanding reputation.

Read the full employer’s guide

The latest survey, carried out by Opinium in partnership with the CBI and Porter Novelli, notes a 9% fall in those thinking the reputation of UK business is good (56%) with high-profile business failures, such as the collapse of Carillion, potentially playing a role in the dip in the reputation of business since the previous survey in October 2017 (65%). This represents a significant drop and is lower than the original level (58%) set when the tracker first started in July 2017. Business reputation declined in 10 out of the 12 regions in the UK.

That said, the foundations for improved business reputation are slowly being put in place with the public’s knowledge about the contribution of business up (54%) and an improved public perception of business leaders (up 10% since May last year). Delivering sustained improvements in business reputation will require firms to address weaknesses where they exist and adopt a clearer focus on issues the public care about most. This means treating employees well, paying a fair share of tax, tackling unfair pay. These are issues which are firmly on the public’s radar.

Among the most striking statistics is the finding that more than 9 out of 10 people (92%) say businesses should take a stance on social issues, such as immigration, climate change and gender equality. In fact, 72% of the public are prepared to champion companies which stand up for what they believe and challenge politicians.

And, against the backdrop of the President’s Club debacle, 77% say firms should do more to value women’s equality. This is a clear challenge to the business community that shows how isolated business scandals can have far wider impacts.

Above all, getting business practices right, making a difference and showing how businesses contribute to a more prosperous society are all steps business can take to improve their reputation. To assist with this, the CBI has published an employers’ guide to help firms of all sizes think about their role and behaviour to support the communities they operate in and to protect business’ reputation.

Commenting on the research, Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, said:

“While complicated arguments about customs and regulations won’t set many pulses racing, the public do want to hear more from businesses about the issues that impact their lives. Speaking out can be tough and firms will need to decide when and how they do this, but it’s clear there is public appetite to hear from them.

“Moreover, our poll shows that the gap between business leaders and people narrows when firms speak up on issues they know about.

“Yet there’s no hiding from the hit caused by the likes of the collapse of Carillion, which has seen the reputation of business fall by nearly 10% within a year.

“This makes it even more important for businesses to focus on what matters – being good for their employees, customers, communities, investors and suppliers.

“Our new guide is geared towards making it easier for business to demonstrate its value to society not just through taxes that pay for vital public services such as school and hospitals but caring about employees and the environment too.”

Commenting on the research, Eleanor Turner, Director of Corporate Reputation & Purpose, at Porter Novelli London, said:

“The findings show that it’s the companies that have a clear purpose, beyond profit, that have the greatest resonance with consumers. When identifying what their purpose is, in order to be authentic and relevant, it’s critical that a business identifies those issues most pertinent to it. Articulating this purpose is more important than ever, with there being an overwhelming call from consumers for business to play a role in the discussion on social issues.

“Business has the opportunity to manage its own reputation. This requires long-term commitment and investment beyond just trying to avoid the next crisis. There is no short-term fix. This approach however, needs to be embedded across your business; at board level and internally with employees and across operations, supply chains and your consumers externally.”

Commenting on the research Adam Wilson, Associate Director at Opinium, said:

“Trust is the foundation of any long-lasting relationship; and our research has highlighted just how important it is to businesses. A series of revelations and scandals throughout the year has seen a breakdown in trust between consumers and businesses. Actions, and not just words, are what consumers want.

“Consumers want businesses to be passionate about the issues that they are passionate about, be it equal pay or protecting the environment. Most importantly they want them to speak out about these issues and lead society in making positive changes.

“In the age of Brexit and political uncertainty, many are relying on businesses to steady the ship. Publicly taking a stance on key social issues would not only bridge the divide between business leaders and the public, but also work to rebuild the reputation of businesses that have taken a knock since last year.”


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