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Brazil: In Spite of Everything, Trust in Business

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A version of this post originally appeared in Brazil Journal.

It is trendy to say that in today’s world the only certainty is uncertainty, but reality exceeds and expands this truth. Technological innovation creates global businesses overnight and destroys those that still use ancient models. In turn, the labor market supports this shift, creating new professional positions and laying off people qualified in the use of technologies that become obsolete. Globalization improves the average quality of life; however, it also emphasizes wealth concentration and social inequality. This dynamic increases the lack of public safety and the fear that fuel populism.

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer measured the extent to which people believe the system (defined as business, government, media and NGOs) is working for them across four variables: a sense of injustice and inequality, a lack of hope in the future, a lack of confidence in leaders and a desire for change. The study concludes that only 15 percent of the general population worldwide believes that the “system is fully working.” In Brazil, this number is lower: 13 percent.

The Trust Barometer also shows the growth of the gap between the Informed Public (the socio-economic elite) and the Mass Population. In the first group, the index of global trust in institutions remains at 60 points since last year, while in the second it dropped from 48 to 45 points. Brazil, in this measure, differs from the rest of the world. The gap between these two groups was reduced to four points, not because the level of trust of the Mass Population increased from last year, but due to the drop of seven points in Informed Public trust.

The study reveals other details about a country that is overcoming the greatest economic crisis in its history and is amazed by the constant confirmation that corruption spans the public and the private sectors.

Eighty-seven percent of Brazilians surveyed are worried about corruption, of which 70 percent are afraid. This last index is by far greater than the other analyzed fears, all below 30 percent, such as globalization, eroding values, immigration and the pace of technological innovation.

Not surprisingly, “pay bribes to government officials to win contracts” is the action that would mostly affect people’s future trust in Brazil’s business, followed by making an excessive profit from basic products, reducing costs by eliminating job positions, reducing costs by lowering quality and reducing benefits.

The ethical and moral setback of the country is still affecting the public’s perception of government. A barely 24 percent level of trust in government positions Brazilian society in the third-to-last place among the 28 countries surveyed, above Poland and South Africa.

Despite registering a drop of three points, business is still the most trusted institution in Brazil, at 61 percent. It is followed by NGOs, at 60 percent, and media, with 48 percent, six points less than last year.

Although very important businessmen were involved in corruption scandals, a good level of trust in business still remains, since it represents the exercise of people’s rights through jobs and consumption. Eight-six percent of the Brazilian public surveyed believes that business may carry out actions that generate, simultaneously, profit and socio-economic development in communities where they operate — 11 percent above the world average. It is a strong indication of opportunity for business to lead a transformation agenda in Brazil.

Now, the challenge of the businesses directly involved in Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash) — the investigation into corruption scandals — is to obtain the minimal social acceptance to operate and survive economically. The ones that have success in this stage will have the opportunity of “making up” with Brazilian society in a still uncertain future.

Yacoff Sarkovas is president and CEO, Edelman Significa.

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