Trust in politicians, business and media to act ethically is lowest in four years: IBE writes to major parties

IBE news
17 June 2024

Tags: Anti-Bribery & Corruption (ABC), Speak Up, Pay, Tax, Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The British public’s trust in politicians, businesses and media to behave ethically is at its lowest level in four years, according to a long-standing annual survey from the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE). Just 14% of 2067 UK adults polled trust that politicians behave ethically in 2024, only one-third would say the same for businesses (35%) and only a fifth of the public believes media behaves ethically (21%).

The Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics 2024 survey, now in its 21st year, also highlights the ethical business issues of the greatest concern to the British public, with corporate tax avoidance (43%) being the biggest issue across age groups, followed by bribery and corruption (30%) and executive pay (28%).

The cost-of-living crisis and ongoing price inflation are likely to have contributed to a sense of unfairness when it comes to financial issues such as tax avoidance, corruption and executive pay” said Ian Peters, Director of the Institute of Business Ethics.

Public trust in politicians, businesses and the media to behave ethically has been eroded by a fall in standards in public life. he continues. As the UK prepares to vote in the general election, the public will be looking for whoever wins to address these issues as soon as possible. Businesses also need to tackle these issues and demonstrate ethical use of resources.” 

The Institute has written a letter to leaders of the four main parties asking them to use the election as an opportunity to reset standards and ethics in public life. “It is vital that government and business work together in the national interest, whether through procurement, industrial strategy, or broader partnership,” it says.

According to the institute, trust in ethical behaviour has worsened across four key groups of public institutions. Charities, businesses, media and politicians, have all experienced a three-point decrease in trust from 2023. Only charities retain a high-level perception of good behaviour (67%).

The top four ethical issues have remained consistent over the past two years. However, employees’ ability to speak out about company wrongdoing has now entered the top five concerns, emphasising the perception of businesses behaving unethically.

High profile sexual harassment and whistleblowing cases in the last year might have increased the public’s understanding of the importance of a healthy Speak Up culture. Any ethical organisation will have an opportunity for Speak Up and a firm leadership commitment to non-retaliation,” says Peters.

Surprisingly, artificial intelligence remains the lowest-ranking ethical issue that the public feels companies need to address, which is the same as the previous year. This points to the public remaining unaware of the potential serious ethical risks posed by AI, highlighting a key concern.

Ethical businesses will have a clear purpose beyond profit, organisational values which shape behaviours, and a code of ethics which sets expectations and provides guidance for colleagues, suppliers and other stakeholders”, the IBE letter sets out. “Our ask is that all political parties commit to setting these minimum ethical expectations of businesses that they work with and that you commit to dialogue with us and others to develop the guidance and support needed to make it happen, once elected.

For further information or comment from Dr Ian Peters MBE please contact Speed Communications:
(T) 0117 973 1173

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Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics 2024