There’s a massive problem for corporate America and it’s that the majority of the rest of the country doesn’t like or trust it at all.
A new poll reveals that 62% of Americans don’t trust the companies making up the Fortune 500 and almost half believe those companies are taking the country in the wrong direction. While the nuances and details around which issues are most important vary based on political orientation, the overall theme is that people want companies to pay their workers a fair and livable wage, treat their workforce with respect and other important issues.
The study also reinforces a relatively recent trend, which is that people want the companies they do business with to have an ethos they agree with. 85% say they are willing to pay more if the company in question has a track record of honorable business practices and 79% say they’d take a pay cut to work for such businesses.
There’s obviously a lot to unpack here.
First, the freedom to make the kinds of values-based decisions, either on what to buy or where to work, comes from a place of privilege. Only if you are relatively comfortable financially can you say you’d be happy to either pay more or earn less based on the practices of any given business. If you’re just scraping by for any of a myriad of reasons, you do what you have to do in the moment, even if it means putting such values to the side for a period of time.
Second, that reality doesn’t negate the first point, which is that many people simply don’t trust corporations to make good and responsible choices. That’s a universal feeling and one that’s actually more likely to be felt by those who are not in a position to change things. Whether you work in a job where safety and other issues are part of your reality or are reading about them in the media, this feeling is largely not dependent on your actual situation.
Finally, it can’t escape notice that these results are coming at a time when corporate America seems to be enjoying favored child status even more so than usual in the political arena. Whether it’s regulations that are altered or removed shortly after CEOs meet with cabinet officials, tax cuts that overwhelmingly favor the rich and powerful corporate owners over the people who work for those companies or buy their products or the nationwide wave of union-busting governors, it’s certainly not a time when “worker protection” is at the top of anyone’s list of priorities.
That means, though, that there’s an opportunity for individual companies to step up and take their own action independent of whatever trends are sweeping through governments at any level. They can signal loudly and clearly that they are increasing worker protections. That they are going to continue adhering to strict environmental guidelines. That they are going to take steps to make health insurance more affordable for employees. That they’re going to change their production practices to source material more ethically.
This isn’t new. Consumers have been signaling their desire to do business with companies with values similar to their own for years. Nielsen reported on it in 2014 and examples go back even earlier. People expect companies to act and have stances on political and social issues.
There seems to be potential in long-term thinking that goes beyond the next quarter’s profit margin to build a successful business that has lasting consumer loyalty based on ideological and societal responsibility. It’s surprising to see more businesses aren’t stepping up to act on that trend using it as a marketing differentiator to attract workers and customers who are obviously waiting for an opportunity.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.