MPs view airlines as 'most ethical' sector but have general distrust for 'big business'

MPs trust airline operators to act ethically more than any other sector, while short-term loan companies are viewed as the least reputable, according to new research that points to a significant level of mistrust and cynicism among MPs about 'big business'.

Ethical behaviour of airlines better than payday lenders in survey of MPs
Ethical behaviour of airlines better than payday lenders in survey of MPs

The Populus research also found that energy companies have seen the biggest decline in trust among MPs over the past year, while pharmaceutical firms appear to have recovered their reputations at the fastest rate.

Populus surveyed 102 MPs, weighted to represent the party make-up of the House of Commons, in July and August, and asked how much they trusted different sectors to act ethically, honestly and responsibly. The results point to the corporate reputation challenges faced by different industries.

Airline operators fared best in the survey, with 54 per cent trusting them a lot or somewhat, against 10 per cent who distrusted them to some extent.

Behind them were supermarkets – trusted by 49 per cent of MPs – then pharmaceutical companies (47 per cent), mobile phone operators (41 per cent), social media/tech firms (34 per cent) and train firms (33 per cent).

In contrast, short-term loan companies were distrusted by 81 per cent of the MPs surveyed. Just four per cent trusted then to any extent.

The media and journalists were among the least trusted, with 63 per cent of MPs distrusting them, the same proportion as distrusted energy companies. Both were less trusted than banks and financial services (62 per cent).

Meanwhile, the research also found that the net balance of MPs who said they trusted energy companies fell from -35 per cent to -46 per cent between 2014 and 2015, the biggest decline of any industry across the year. The recovery in trust appears strongest for the pharmaceutical industry, moving from +6 per cent last year to +23 per cent in 2015.

However, the 2014 survey took place before this year’s general election, when the make-up of the House of Commons changed.

The survey points to a general level of cynicism about big businesses among many MPs, particularly Labour members.

While just eight per cent of MPs disagreed with the statement that "the vast majority of businesses in Britain conduct themselves responsibly", 49 per cent agreed that big businesses were "far too focused on short-term profit" and placed "much too little importance on their social responsibilities".

A minority of the MPs surveyed (43 per cent) agreed that big businesses had learned the lessons of the financial crisis and had improved their behaviour. Almost a third (31 per cent) of MPs agreed that big businesses "have too much power and government needs to rein them in" – the proportion was 55 per cent for Labour MPs and just four per cent for Conservatives.

Asked to pick three words or phrases from a list of five that they associated most with ‘big business’, just 46 per cent chose "vital for the country". That figure was 65 per cent for Conservatives and 32 per cent for Labour MPs.

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