It has been a quarter century since issues of trust began attracting the attention of those concerned with business and the management of business (cf. Zand). During the quarter century prior to that point, trust was particularly the concern of psychologists and those focused on issues of international security and relations between the superpowers. It is ironic, then, that at a time when there is increased trust between the superpowers, there seems to be less trust by many within and between businesses. Downsizing, mergers, outsourcing, and reengineering have led to mistrust by many employees of the business for which they work (or worked). Dangerous products, invasive marketing, and efforts to pressure people to agree to unneeded repairs have fostered mistrust between customers and businesses. Takeovers, leveraged buyouts and corporate espionage have fostered mistrust among businesses.
And yet the importance of trust within and between business organizations, both nationally and internationally, is increasingly recognized. Trust is said not only to reduce transaction costs, make possible the sharing of sensitive information, permit joint projects of various kinds, but also to provide a basis for expanded moral relations in business. Indeed, many (such as Gewirth and Hosmer) have claimed that ethics and trust are bound up together. One CEO has even claimed that “ethics is simply and ultimately a matter of trust. People act in their economic self-interest. But a system based on that fact must also be grounded on mutual trust, among individuals and among organizations” (Loucks, 1989: 55).
In light of these apparently conflicting movements of both extensive mistrust and expanding trust, as well as the strong claims made on behalf of trust, it is not surprising that trust has become an important topic for those studying business and its values.