Global leaders share their thoughts on the impacts of trade conflicts
WEF
Global leaders share their thoughts on the impacts of trade conflicts
Now playing
02:19
Global leaders on the impacts of trade conflicts
WEF
Now playing
02:09
Watch Mnuchin and Lagarde clash over the climate crisis
Now playing
04:41
These energy leaders disagree over how to deal with coal
Now playing
00:55
Trump: Elon Musk 'does good at rockets'
A picture of Prince Charles being interviewed by Max Foster in Davos.
CNN
A picture of Prince Charles being interviewed by Max Foster in Davos.
Now playing
05:36
Watch Prince Charles' exclusive CNN interview
Britain's Prince Charles addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The 50th annual meeting of the forum is taking place in Davos from Jan. 21 until Jan. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Markus Schreiber/AP
Britain's Prince Charles addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The 50th annual meeting of the forum is taking place in Davos from Jan. 21 until Jan. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Now playing
02:20
Prince Charles: We need a new economic model or the planet will burn
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin attends a session at the Congress center during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 21, 2020.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin attends a session at the Congress center during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 21, 2020.
Now playing
02:27
US threatens to hike tariffs on UK car exports
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg addresses guests at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. The 50th annual meeting of the forum will take place in Davos from Jan. 21 until Jan. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Michael Probst/AP
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg addresses guests at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. The 50th annual meeting of the forum will take place in Davos from Jan. 21 until Jan. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Now playing
01:59
Watch Greta Thunberg hit back at Trump on climate change
President Donald Trump delivers the opening remarks at the World Economic Forum, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Davos.
Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump delivers the opening remarks at the World Economic Forum, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Davos.
Now playing
02:36
Trump calls climate activists 'perennial prophets of doom'
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg takes her seat prior to the opening session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. The 50th annual meeting of the forum will take place in Davos from Jan. 20 until Jan. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Markus Schreiber/AP
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg takes her seat prior to the opening session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. The 50th annual meeting of the forum will take place in Davos from Jan. 20 until Jan. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Now playing
01:38
Greta ignores Davos panel question to give warning
Now playing
03:56
Microsoft's pledge to eradicate its carbon footprint
A photo taken on June 16, 2011 in Bern shows the President of the Swiss National Bank Philipp Hildebrand looking on during a news conference. Swiss central bank chief Philipp Hildebrand on January 4, 2012 faced fresh claims about his personal currency transactions in a scandal that has shaken the Swiss banking industry. Swiss weekly newspaper Weltwoche said in a statement ahead of its Thursday publication that it was Hildebrand himself, and not his wife, who was behind the purchase and selling of currency that sparked a probe by the Swiss National Bank (SNB).      AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
A photo taken on June 16, 2011 in Bern shows the President of the Swiss National Bank Philipp Hildebrand looking on during a news conference. Swiss central bank chief Philipp Hildebrand on January 4, 2012 faced fresh claims about his personal currency transactions in a scandal that has shaken the Swiss banking industry. Swiss weekly newspaper Weltwoche said in a statement ahead of its Thursday publication that it was Hildebrand himself, and not his wife, who was behind the purchase and selling of currency that sparked a probe by the Swiss National Bank (SNB). AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
00:40
BlackRock Exec: Climate risks forcing investments into sustainability
US President Donald Trump gestures as he delivers a speech during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on January 26, 2018 in Davos, eastern Switzerland.  / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI        (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump gestures as he delivers a speech during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on January 26, 2018 in Davos, eastern Switzerland. / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:21
Business leaders on edge as Trump heads to Davos
world economic forum 50 years davos lon orig_00001901.jpg
world economic forum 50 years davos lon orig_00001901.jpg
Now playing
00:55
World Economic Forum: 50 years in 50 seconds
(CNN Business) —  

The corporate, political and cultural elite gathered in Davos are expressing worries about a disturbing trend: The erosion of public trust in institutions and companies.

World Economic Forum attendees said the lack of faith in everything from governments to social media platforms is hampering innovation and contributing to widening inequality.

Davos billboards tout the importance of trust. On the main approach to the conference venue, the consulting firm Accenture has erected a large sign that reads:

“Trust is the ultimate currency.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel used a prime speaking slot to argue that the global financial crisis, which began a decade ago, has eroded public trust in companies and governments.

“Politicians have lost a lot of their credit in the eyes of the world, but also the financial and banking sector has lost a lot of its credibility,” she said. “A stable international financial system has indeed been damaged quite significantly, and we have to do everything in order to avoid a repetition of that.”

Ginni Rometty, the chief executive of IBM (IBM), said the lack of trust in society is “underpinning” the rise of populist movements around the world. And it’s causing problems for business.

“You can see this mounting as an issue, it’s in tech but even more broadly, I call it a trust headwind because there have some been misuses of data, and before this derails the entire digital economy … I think we have to deal head on with trust,” Rometty told CNN’s Julia Chatterley in Davos.

The tech industry, and especially social media companies, have come under intense scrutiny following a series of data misuse scandals. Most avoided the limelight in Davos. Facebook (FB) had a presence in the Swiss mountain town, but Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg stayed away from the main stages.

“Look at how their brands have been impacted,” Salesforce (CRM) founder Marc Benioff said when asked during a session about people dropping off social media platforms.

“If we were here at the World Economic Forum three or four years ago, we would be talking about those companies as if they had just walked off Mount Sinai. The reality is now we’re talking about ‘gee, where did they actually come from,’ and maybe it wasn’t a high place.”

Benioff, a frequent critic of his own industry, said trust has to be a company’s highest principle.

“You have to chose. What is your highest value? Are you about trust or are you about success? And I think sometimes people put success above trust. I’m all for success …. but we cannot put success above trust,” he said.

Microsoft (MSFT) President Brad Smith said during a panel that a year of tech crises had brought together “latent but rising public concerns.”

Now that the problems have been acknowledged, he said the next step was taking action.

“Ultimately it’s all a matter of doing something. The public has developed a keen ability to differentiate between words and deeds,” he said. “You’re not going to sustain trust unless there’s consistency action and transparency.”