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Slowdown, Satyam erode trust in business: Survey

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

The economic slowdown has eroded trust of opinion leaders on business, the government, civil society and media alike, said a survey of 200 opinion leaders in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore carried out between November 5 and December 14 2008 by Edelman, the world’s largest standalone public relations firm.

“Our interpretation is that respondents have lost some faith in business to continue producing sustained growth,” said Edelman President (Asia Pacific) Alan VanderMelon. The Satyam Computer Services scandal, which broke out on January 7 when the company’s promoter, B Ramalinga Raju, announced that there was a Rs 5,000-crore hole in its deposits, is certain to have made it worse.

According to the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer, as much as 49 per cent of the respondents (all drawn from the top ten per cent income bracket) expressed growing concerns about business in India. “After Satyam, I guess the figure would be more like the global average of 65-70 per cent. Governance would be a significant driver of that increase,” said VanderMelon.

The barometer said that CEO credibility has fallen from 66 per cent to 60 per cent in the last one year. While he acknowledged that the Satyam scandal has eaten into CEO credibility as well, VanderMelon did not quantify by how much. However, he added, the recent pay cuts taken voluntarily by CEOs and senior executives could help hold it at 60 per cent. “This reflects our view of the need for executives to share responsibility and pain with middle managers and the rank and file during hard times,” he said.

Even if Satyam had not happened, VanderMelon said the economic slowdown has reduced the trust of people on business as well as the government. “Whenever there is an economic downturn, there are job losses etc and this lowers trust,” he said. Trust in business, according to the survey, has come down globally, except in China where it has gone up, in spite of the milk contamination scandal.

The fall could have severe implications for business. “Our survey shows that there is likelihood of high trust among Indians. But once a company breaks that trust, they can punish severely. They are likely to hammer that company’s stock in the market or not buy its products,” he added.

According to VanderMelon, trust in the government is low at present because of the multi-party coalition in power. “Trust in coalitions is low as people feel you can get nowhere with regulatory change,” he said. VanderMelon said that he expects it to slide further with the next general elections round the corner and the Opposition certain to step up its attack on the government.

The Trust Barometer, the firm’s tenth survey on the subject, also shows that trust in civil society has come down in the last one year. VanderMelon said that after the tsunami that visited South Asia some years back, there were cases of financial impropriety by some non-government organisations, which has brought down the confidence on them in the entire region.

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First Published: Sun, February 08 2009. 00:30 IST