The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

To feel safe delegating important aspects of our lives and well-being to others, we need to trust them to act with integrity and with our best interests in mind. Trust is at the heart of an individual’s relationship with an institution and its leadership. If trust in an institution diminishes, we begin to fear that we are no longer in safe, reliable hands. Without trust, the fabric of society can unravel to the detriment of all.

Now in its 18th year, the Edelman Trust Barometer measures trust in 28 countries in four key institutions:

  • Media
  • Government
  • Business
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

The most striking finding of this year’s survey is the polari­zation of trust. While trust is rising strongly in some countries, it is falling dramatically in others.

This is most evident in the trust profiles for the United States and China. Trust in US institutions plummeted. Particularly among those with higher levels of education and income, trust in government in the United States fell by a dramatic 30 points. Now, just 33 percent of Americans trust their government to do the right thing. Likewise, trust in media fell 22 points to 42 percent and trust in business fell 20 points to 54 percent. While at a low level, business is now the most trusted of the four institutions in the United States.

China is exactly the opposite. Trust in government by the informed public now stands at an amazing 89 percent. One may question freedom of the press in China, but trust in that institution by Chinese citizens is also high at 80 percent. Trust in business is at 85 percent.

Japan’s trust index hovers at a miserable 37 percent, meaning that only about one in three Japanese have trust in the four institutions to do the right thing. Among the informed public in Japan, trust in media fell eight points to 37 percent, trust in government is down six points to 47 percent, and trust in business dropped three points to 52 percent. NGOs saw an increase, however, up two points to 46 percent. As in the United States, business is the only institution in Japan trusted by more than half the informed public.

The situation is even more dire among the general population, with trust in media at 32 percent, government at 37 percent, and business at 42 percent. Trust in NGOs saw a significant six-point rise among the general population to 37 percent, making these groups trusted as much as government—albeit by only one-third of the population.

But how is Japan seen from the outside? Trust in companies headquartered in Japan, a surrogate or “Brand Japan,” unfor­tu­na­te­ly declined in 18 of the 28 countries surveyed. Although trust in Japanese companies increased in the major markets of the United States (+3 to 54 percent), China (+3 to 48 percent), and South Korea (+9 to 44 percent), there can be no doubt that the quality issues experienced by many Japanese companies in recent years—particularly in the second half of 2017—have taken their toll on Brand Japan.