Citizens, companies and society

July 2013

Although corporate communications regarding companies’ engagement with wider society in the context of corporate social responsibility programmes, annual reports and so on receive plenty of coverage, what’s less often reported is how citizens view the influence of companies on society. The results of a Flash Eurobarmeter survey, “How companies influence our society: citizen’s view” (carried out in October and November 2012 but only recently released) goes some way to readdressing that imbalance; it also raises several important communication issues. According to the report, this survey was designed to investigate the views of Europeans and selected other nationalities on the influence companies have on society. In particular the survey investigated the levels of interest and information about what companies do to behave responsibly towards society, perceptions of the efforts companies in different sizes and different sectors make to behave in a socially responsible way; perceptions of the overall influence of companies on society, and who should take the lead in influencing companies to behave in a more responsible way towards society. Just over half of European citizens believe that companies have a positive influence on society, while more than 4 out of 10 believe companies have a negative influence (above left). Interestingly, Europeans are more sceptical about the influence of companies than citizens from other major economies. For example, 79 per cent  of Brazilian respondents think that companies have a positive influence on society, followed by just under three quarters of Indian respondents and around 60 per cent of respondents in the US and China; compare these results with the EU’s 52 per cent. And communicators take note: the survey finds an information gap in Europe: 36 per cent of Europeans saying they feel informed about what companies do with regard to socially responsible behaviour whereas 62 per cent say that they do not feel informed (above centre); however, this does not mean Europeans are not interested – 79 per cent say they are interested in what companies do to behave in a responsible way towards society (above right) – a resounding call to action for communicators.

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