Businesses should take a stance on immigration, climate change & equality says research
In the age of Brexit and political uncertainty and questions around the role of capitalism itself, is there a need for businesses and brands to be more vocal in their political opinions and to provide a voice that people might listen to? But with increasing polarisation and cynicism, do we trust business in the UK?
9 out of 10 people (92%) in the UK say businesses should take a stance on social issues.
Opinium, in partnership with the CBI and Porter Novelli, has spent the last year measuring the reputation of UK business among the population. When we began in May 2017, 58% of the population thought UK business had a good reputation and we were encouraged to see it rise to 65% in October. However, it declined back to 56% in May 2018.
The collapse of Carillion, the abuse of personal data by Cambridge Analytica and the shambles over BHS pensions hurt all firms. It can’t be a surprise that 77% of the public want firms to do more to value women’s equality, but the President's Club debacle highlights the urgency. An individual scandal can put the brakes on the undeniable improvements the wider business community are making, or the simple, unheralded day-to-day activities of firms getting on with the job all over the country.
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.
Consumers want businesses to be passionate about the issues that they themselves 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.
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.
Also key for larger businesses in the UK is to harness their local connections – employees, customers, clients and suppliers – and make much of these, while mitigating bad press at a national level. Our research shows that most workers (78%) actually report a positive relationship with their employer. The perception is that big, faceless businesses that we only connect with as a brand, not on a human level are ‘bad’, while those we know and have personal relationships with are ‘good’. We know people there, trust our colleagues or those who serve us and this feeds a positive reputation.
Delivering sustainable improvements in business reputation will require firms to address weaknesses where they exist and focus on issues the public care about most. This means treating employees well, paying a fair share of tax, tackling unfair pay and protecting data. These are issues which are firmly on the public’s radar.
Business leaders and politicians need someone they care about on their shoulder. And for every decision they take, they must be able to look that person in the eye and back their choices with pride. That’s what great leaders do and what great economies are built on.
Only by assessing its weaknesses honestly and building a critical mass of good corporate behaviour can business hope to not find itself derailed by the next big scandal and setting back the reputation of business once again.
Adam Wilson is associate director of Opinium
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