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A WestJet plane is pictured over Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues

In the era of eBay, Craigslist and Kijiji, Canadians trust perfect strangers in buying and selling their cars, furniture, concert tickets and everything else imaginable. (What, we wonder, exactly is a zombie lamp?) We rent vacation homes from people we'll never meet, and hop into their cars with Uber.

When it comes to bricks and mortar corporations and their brands, however, it seems we're more skeptical.

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A global study conducted this year by PR firm Edelman found a sharp drop in Canadians' overall trust in companies – down to 47 per cent from 62 per cent last year. The major source of distrust? Consumers' belief that companies operate out of pure self-interest, to the detriment of product quality and any social benefit.

Enter the Gustavson Brand Trust Index, an inaugural report issued this summer from the University of Victoria (UVic) in B.C. It's compiled a list of the brands Canadians trust the most. This survey confirms that, in addition to product quality and reliability, it's a company's values – how it treats workers, the environment and the community – that most inspires consumer confidence.

Saul Klein, dean of UVic's Gustavson School of Business, cited WestJet (top-ranked in the report's "travel" category) as an epic example of aligning brand values with those of consumers. Actions like flying home stranded tourists from a hurricane-ravaged resort last September "creatively demonstrate a caring attitude," Klein told us. "One trusts that they will be there when you need them most."

Other brands atop the UVic list, like Tim Hortons and Canadian Tire, are known almost as much for their community giving – kids' camps and affordable sports programs – as their doughnuts and automotive gear.

As consumers, we all have tremendous power in our wallets to influence companies' behaviour. Here's our chance to tell corporations what they can do to win our confidence – and then cash.

This week's question: What social and environmental actions can a company take to win your support?

THE EXPERTS

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Andrew Black, CEO of BrandProject, Toronto

"Consistent, simple gestures like an airline collecting passengers' spare change for charity, or a shoe company recycling used soles into playground surfaces, develop a lasting connection with customers."

Wayne Dunn, founder of the CSR Training Institute, Mill Bay, B.C.

"Guinness Ghana, an African brewing company, switched to sourcing local ingredients for its beers, cutting costs and creating more local jobs at the same time."

Jennifer Lynes, director, environment and business program, University of Waterloo, Ont.

"Tell me the areas in which you are trying to improve. For example, an annual environmental report published by Scandinavian Airlines actually listed the environmental goals they did not meet that year."

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Have your say in the comments section.

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