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The new job for CEOs: Building trust

Why it matters: The United States is facing the worst collapse in the trust of institutions — businesses, media, NGOs, government — ever recorded in the history of the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey. But while trust in institutions has plummeted, trust in employers has inched up.

Data: Edelman Trust Barometer; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

The survey found recovering belief in CEOs, with 64% saying CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.

  • In the U.S., trust in employers rose 15 percentage points over the past two years, more than double the global increase of 7 percentage points.
  • Globally, 72% say they trust their employer to do what is right.

“This is a moment of truth for corporations,” said Steven Hollingworth, President and CEO of the Grameen Foundation, at an Axios Expert Voices event this week. “The monkey’s now on the backs of corporations to show that they’re in it for their country, not just in it for themselves.”

The backdrop: The dramatic drop in public trust has led to political polarization and instability. Some of the factors that have contributed fraying trust levels, according to thought leaders:

  • Many red states feel left behind by the technological revolution that has largely taken place on the coasts.
  • Wage stagnation, particularly in lower income brackets. By contrast, public trust in institutions has risen in countries like China and Indonesia, where there is a growing middle class.
  • Big companies are less connected to the communities around them, thanks to the fall of manufacturing and rise of globalization.
  • Declining local media outlets, resulting in a lack of accurate information about municipal governments and communities.

What’s happening: Some CEOs are already stepping in to address pressing issues.

  • JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett recently announced plans to team up to crack the health care system.
  • Google invested $1 billion in an initiative to teach digital skills to young workers.
  • IBM launched apprenticeship programs — with a particular focus in red states — to teach skills needed for open jobs in those communities.

What to watch: The recent tax cuts present an opportunity for businesses to invest that extra cash in their employees and communities, Hollingworth said.

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