Fake news. Wikileaks. The Panama Papers. The March for Truth. It seems more than likely that the 2010s will be remembered chiefly for its crisis of trust, and the citizen-led movement for truth and transparency.

The public’s trust in all sectors of society is falling, and although CEOs and employers are more trusted in many markets than governments or media, businesses can’t afford to be complacent. With issues such as corporate tax payments, zero hours contracts and the use of consumers’ personal data dominating the headlines – and memories of sweatshops and horse meat barely fading – business finds itself all too often the subject of public ire.

The good news is that companies are making huge strides in their transparency initiatives, driving positive change, disclosing standardised, comparable results publicly, and utilising new technologies such as blockchain to support their progress.

Consumers tell us they want this information – that being clear about what’s in their products and how they are made is a key component of their trust in us. In a world of post-truth politics and fake news, consumers are looking to brands to give them simplicity, transparency and evidence.

And yet business hasn’t yet solved the trust crisis. There’s a gap we have yet to bridge – the translation gap between the technical and consumer sides of transparency.

  • Corporate transparency initiatives are getting better and more robust all the time, working with supply chain partners to drive positive change. We know that our data shows a complex picture, that we have much less visibility than the average consumer expects, and that we’re on a journey to improve that includes dilemmas such as how to trace commodities to source. Our expert stakeholders understand all this, even as they encourage us to improve, and we’ve become very good at giving them the information they need.
  • Consumer engagement in transparency is very different. Consumers have low trust in companies (along with other institutions) – but they are looking for reasons to build that trust. They often have low knowledge of supply chains and high expectations of our ability to see and influence where products come from and how they’re made. They want simple, clear answers to the issues that concern them – which are not always the same issues that interest companies – and they want that information to come to them, on the product in their hand.

The problem comes when we try to speak the language of sustainability and corporate communications to consumers, trying to disclose information to them as if they were stakeholders. All our hard work is getting lost in translation.

So, how do we bridge the translation gap and use our existing initiatives to deliver value?

That’s the question Futerra and the Consumer Goods Forum are seeking to answer with our new research project. Through desk research, a survey and insights from industry thought leaders, we’re developing a simple, easy-to-use guide on connecting with consumers through product-related transparency.

The guide will be launched at the Sustainable Retail Summit in October 2018, along with a library of examples and category-specific advice on how to help consumers understand what’s in the product in their hand, and how it was made.

Research and analysis has already begun – and you can play a part. In July we’ll launch a short, online survey to capture insights from the consumer goods industry. We’d love as many people as possible to complete the survey and tell us what they think are the opportunities, barriers and best examples of product-related transparency.

If you’re interested, email Sarah Holloway at Futerra on sarah@wearefuterra.com and we’ll send you details of how to take part.

This blog was written and contributed by:

Sarah Holloway
Strategy Director, UK & Europe

Solitaire Townsend