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Future of the Corporation Research - Trust

There is an acute awareness of how lack of trust has been a significant theme in public dialogue over the past decade but what makes for trustworthy businesses, and how can businesses become more trusted than they have been in the past? What fuels distrust? Are there particular forms of ownership and governance that can assist with the promotion of trustworthy business? Can regulation and public policy contribute to making business and financial institutions trustworthy? Do corporate leaders, customers, the public, and other stakeholders view trust differently? Are there dimensions of trust in business?If so, do we need a more multi-dimensional approach to what is included in the concept of trust and how do businesses respond to this? Is there a relationship between trust and trustworthiness and levels of inequality and vulnerability in society? Does the corporation hold too much power? What can we learn from the evolution of trust and trustworthy businesses throughout history? What can historical and fictional literature tell us about trust in business through the ages? Why are partnerships such as the guilds and family-owned businesses sometimes seen as more trustworthy than other forms of businesses?

What is trust and trustworthiness in business?

Lead Researcher(s) - Group 1 Institution
Professor David Vines
Dr Natalie Gold
Oxford University
King’s College London
University of Leicester School of Business

Group 1 poses the hypothesis that weak trust, of the form used in the economic analysis of the firm, needs to be supplemented with forms of strong trust, which can be supported by appropriately designed governance structures. The appropriate form of trust, and therefore governance structure, will be related to the type of activity being undertaken, and hence to the firm’s purpose and the purpose of the levels within the firm. Trust will also be impacted by the relationship between these levels. The group will survey the relevant corporate governance literature in order to establish principles about how to connect activities and their purposes, forms of trust, and forms of governance. The project will also lead to new avenues of research in ‘corporate anthropology’: investigating in detail the current governance structures that actually exist in different kinds of financial firms, and examining the possibilities for change.

Lead Researcher(s) - Group 2
Professor Nikolas Kirby
Professor Jonathan Wolff
Professor Karthik Ramanna
Blavatnik School of Government

Group 2 will look to clarify the concept of ‘trust’ and its cognates (‘distrust’, ‘trustworthiness’, ‘untrustworthiness’) as they apply in the context of corporations and at the impact that trust or distrust in corporations has on trust and distrust in society more generally. The research will interrogate the relationship between the various degrees of social power that a corporation may have, the consequent vulnerability of various stakeholders, and thus the obligations (if any) of such a corporation to make and keep commitments. The research will provide a survey of the different current (and historical) corporate, regulatory and social structures which result in different trust relations between agents. It will highlight causal relations that raise important normative questions. For example, if under certain circumstances employee empowerment increases trust and decreases vulnerability, should the state encourage such forms of employee empowerment? It will also identify key gaps in the literature, and thus key empirical questions that need to be answered by further research.

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