Australians have never been more distrusting of corporate Australia since Roy Morgan began measuring trust and distrust in late 2017. Since 2020, the poor behaviour of corporate Australia under the ‘cover of COVID’ has led to dramatically soaring distrust, not only for individual brands but for the entire economy.
In 2023 corporate distrust deteriorated even further as consumers faced economic uncertainty and grappled with successive data breaches and corporate scandals.
The PwC tax scandal and the data breaches at Optus and Medibank are among recent events accelerating distrust. The Harvey Norman’s JobKeeper scandal, Rio Tinto’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge, Qantas’ refusal to pay back any of the $2.7 billion in COVID government handouts – even after announcing an annual profit of $2.5 billion and the class action by hundreds of thousands of customers fueled by the airline’s unwillingness to refund $2 billion in cancelled flights, are all having an impact on distrust.
The poor behaviour of many of the economy’s corporate leaders reveals a Moral Blindness to what is ethical and in the community’s interest rather than solely in the shareholders’ interest.
Mentions of professional services firm, PwC as a distrusted brand have increased dramatically since the April 2023 revelations of confidential tax office information being misused for commercial gain. Mentions of PwC for either trust or distrust were generally low prior to this scandal.
In the year to June 2023, for the first time, Facebook/Meta is not Australia’s most distrusted brand – replaced by telecommunications giant Optus. This change in ranking follows the widely publicised Optus data breach in September 2022. Distrust in Optus increased sharply following the data breach and has remained at high levels ever since. Although far more Australians continue to distrust than trust Facebook, the change in ranking also reflects a slight improvement in its distrust score.
More than three years after the destruction of the 46,000-year-old sacred Indigenous site, Juukan Gorge, Australians continue to nominate Rio Tinto as a company they distrust.
Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine says that this alarming increase in distrust following major scandals shows the dire consequences of moral blindness and reinforces the importance of ethics in business.
Levine said: “From the onset of COVID corporate leaders had to respond with agility, often sidestepping the checks and balances. This got many of them through the pandemic recession.
“But once the crisis had passed, they found the new freedoms they had enjoyed under the cover of COVID hard to relinquish, and a kind of Moral Blindness became endemic.
“The pandemic made it easier for leaders to look the other way, to avoid facing the ethical repercussions of their behaviour.
“Fundamentally, we need to arrest this trend and embrace a decency principle while at the same time ensuring company directors put distrust on their boards’ risk registers.”
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