Supermarket retailer Coles has been named one of Australia’s most trusted brands and disgraced miner Rio Tinto has been named one of the nation’s most distrusted brands in a new survey released on Monday.

The COVID issue of the latest Roy Morgan Risk Report collected data from more than 20,000 Australians to identify the country’s 20 most trusted and distrusted brands.

Supermarkets Coles, Bunnings, Woolworths and Aldi made the list of most trusted brands across Australia during the pandemic.

Roy Morgan chief executive Michele Levine said the essential nature of supermarkets like Coles has kept these businesses at the forefront of Australia’s pandemic life.

Levine also said Coles has continued its rise on the trust ladder.

“In May last year we reported that Coles was the fastest mover, lifting three rankings. During the depths of COVID, our data collected between April and September 2020 reveals that Coles jumped another two rankings to be neck and neck with Woolworths in the top two positions,” she said.

Coles is Australia’s largest corporate sector employer of Indigenous Australians, with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce of more than 4,900 people.

Throughout the pandemic, the retailer implemented a sustainability initiative with an Indigenous-owned recycling company, raised $40,000 for Indigenous health service Purple House to assist patients undergoing dialysis, and delivered extra pallets of essential grocery items to Indigenous communities struggling with the onset of COVID-19.

While Woolworths retained its trusted brand status, there remains considerable backlash from the retailer’s attempt to establish a Dan Murphy’s in Darwin within walking distance of the dry communities of Bagot and Minmarama.

Woolworths Group has now returned its liquor licence for the store, however, questions remain around whether Endeavour Group, Woolworths’ drinks subsidiary, will revive plans for the liquor store once it separates from Woolworths Group.

In the list of most distrusted brands, disgraced mining giant Rio Tinto has appeared on the list for the first time.

The debut listing for the miner has highlighted the impact of not one but two revelations of deliberate cultural heritage destruction by Rio Tinto in the past three decades.

Last year, the miner blew up 46,000-year-old caves sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples, which saw massive public backlash and the resignation of three of Rio Tinto’s top executives.

It was also recently revealed that Rio Tinto deliberately disposed of cultural heritage material from its Marandoo operation at the Darwin rubbish tip in the 1990s.

Eastern Guruma Traditional Owners, where the Marandoo mine sits, never knew their cultural heritage had been thrown out until this year and will never know what the material might have contained.

As a result, Rio Tinto has now appeared ahead of Google and Huawei on the list of most distrusted brands.

Telstra was also listed as one of Australia’s most distrusted brands, reflecting their recent $50 million fine from consumer watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for wilfully misleading customers in remote Aboriginal communities between 2016 and 2018.

Telstra-licensed stores in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia signed up 108 customers living on government benefits to multiple post-paid mobile contracts at excessive prices and later allowed debts owed by some customers to be sold to third-party debt collectors.

The Federal Court formally approved the $50 million fine in May, along with other reconciliatory measures.

Levine says distrust remains the “number one risk factor” for Australian companies.

“Trust is a brand asset while distrust is a brand liability,” she said.

“It’s clear, then, that distrust should be on the risk register of every publicly listed company in Australia.”

See the list of top 10 most trusted and top 10 most distrusted brands below:

Roy Morgan’s most trusted and distrusted brands, COVID edition. Photo supplied.

By Hannah Cross