South Africans are looking to business to strengthen the country’s social fabric during periods of polarisation
An overwhelming majority of South Africans surveyed in the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer have obligated the business sector to act as agents of accountability and cooperation in mending the country’s social fabric.
With business and NGOs perceived by South Africans as the only trusted, competent, and ethical institutions, the onus is placed on local CEOs to hold divisive forces accountable. 77% of survey respondents believe that CEOs are obligated to pull advertising money from platforms that spread misinformation and 70% of South Africans, on average, believe companies could strengthen the social fabric by supporting institutions that build consensus. Additionally, 81% believe CEOs must defend facts and expose questionable science used to justify bad social policy.
Out of the 28 participating countries in the survey, South Africa was one of the six deemed severely polarised, with 61% of South Africans agreeing the country is divided. Common among participants though are fears stemming from losing jobs (96%), rising inflation (82%), food shortages (83%), and energy shortages (82%).
“Our data shows that South Africans are increasingly turning to businesses as trusted partners in addressing contentious societal issues. This emphasizes the responsibility of businesses to leverage the power of their brands to create a shared identity, celebrating what brings us together and emphasizing our common interests to strengthen the social fabric,” said Karena Crerar, CEO for Edelman Africa.
These expectations provide both opportunities and heightened risks for businesses, especially considering that at least half of South Africans believe business is not doing enough to address significant societal issues.
Through the survey, South Africans issued a clarion call for CEOs to take a public stand on issues like treatment of employees, discrimination, climate change, the wealth gap, and immigration. They encourage constructive action and believe that a working partnership between government and business would be six times more likely to achieve optimal results than if business works alone.
“Businesses have a comparative advantage to inform debate and deliver solutions across various societal issues. Leveraging the influence held by business for the greater good is not only about creating direct, societal change – it’s also integral to maintaining and continuing to build trust from within. This can be achieved by building consensus and collaborating on policies and standards to deliver results that push us toward a more just, secure, and thriving society,” Crerar said.
Other key findings for South Africa from the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer include:
Less South Africans now believe that they and their families will be better off in five years. Compared to results from 2022, economic optimism dropped 11 percentage points to 55% this year.
South Africa has the largest percentage-point difference, 40 points, between trust in business vs government. 62% of those surveyed trust business, while 22% trust government.
South Africans appear divided regarding the credibility of the media. 46% believe the media is a reliable source of trustworthy information, while 37% believe media is a source of false or misleading information.