This company has areas of concern regarding Worker Rights, Human Rights, Political Influence, Environmental Issues and Business Ethics.
2111 McDonald's Dr. Oak Brook Illinois US
Public (NYSE: MCD)
McDonald's is the world's #1 fast-food company by sales, with more than 31,000 flagship restaurants serving burgers and fries in more than 100 countries. Almost 30% of its locations are company-owned; the others are run by franchisees. While most of the company's eateries are free-standing units, it does have some quick-service kiosk units located in airports and retail areas. Each unit gets its food and packaging from approved suppliers and uses standardized procedures to ensure that "a Big Mac purchased in Pittsburgh tastes the same as one bought in Beijing". McDonald's also owns the Boston Market and Chipotle Mexican Grill fast-casual chains.
McDonald's brand is in 122 countries around the world. Thirty thousand locations serve 51 million customers each day. More than 70 percent of McDonald's restaurants around the world are owned and operated by independent local businesspeople.
In addition, the company operates other restaurant brands, such as Aroma Café, Boston Market, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and has a minority stake in Pret a Manger. Until December 2003 it also owned Donatos Pizza. It also has a subsidiary, Redbox, which in 2003 started as 18-foot wide automated convenience stores, but as of 2005 has focused on DVD rental machines.
Revenues for 2004 were US$19.07 billion, with net income at $2.75.
Most standalone McDonald's restaurants offer both counter and drive-through service, with indoor and sometimes outdoor seating. The Drive-Thru, Auto-Mac, or McDrive as it is known in many countries, often has separate stations for placing, paying for, and picking up orders, though the former two steps are frequently combined. In some countries "McDrive" locations near highways offer no counter service or seating. In contrast, locations in high-density city neighborhoods often omit drive-through service.
Specially themed restaurants also exist, such as "Rock-and-Roll McDonald's" 1950s themed restaurants. Some McDonald's in suburban areas and certain cities feature large indoor or outdoor playgrounds, called "McDonald's PlayPlace" or "Playland". These were primarily created in the 1970s and 1980s in the USA, but later internationally.
The McDonald's Corporation's business model is slightly different from that of most other fast-food chains. In addition to ordinary franchise fees, supplies, and percentage of sales, McDonald's also collects rent, partially linked to sales. As a condition of the franchise agreement, the Corporation owns the property on which most McDonald's franchises are located.
McDonald's trains its franchisees and others at Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Illinois.
According to Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (2001), nearly one in eight workers in the US has at some time been employed by McDonald's. The book also states that McDonald's is the largest private operator of playgrounds in the U.S., as well as the single largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes.
McDonald's has been the target of criticism for allegations of exploitation of entry-level workers, use of sweatshop labor to produce "happy meal" toys, ecological damage caused by agricultural production and industrial processing of its products, selling unhealthy food, production of packaging waste, exploitative advertising (especially targeted at children, minorities, and low-income people), and contributing to suffering and exploitation of livestock. McDonald's' historic tendency towards promoting high-calorie foods such as French fries has earned it the nickname "the starchy arches".
In the high profile McLibel Trial, McDonald's took two anti-McDonald's campaigners, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, to court for a trial lasting two and a half years—the longest in English legal history and part of a 20-year battle—after the pair distributed leaflets critical of the company in London's streets. McDonald's won the case in the U.K. High Court, and were awarded £60,000 damages, which later was reduced to £40,000 by the Court of Appeal. Steel and Morris then made a separate but related claim against the U.K. Government in the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that the lack of access to legal aid and the heavy burden of proof that lay with them to prove their claims (rather than McDonald's, the claimants, having to prove that the claims were false) under U.K. libel law breached the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression. The ECHR ruled against the U.K. Government, which subsequently introduced legislation to change the libel laws to remedy the defects highlighted by the ECHR judgment. The libel charge and fine were overturned in an appeals case. For more information, see McLibel case.
McDonald's has also been criticized for its approach to preserving its image and copyrights. It has threatened many foodservice businesses with legal action unless they drop the Mc or Mac from their trading name. In one noteworthy case, McDonald's sued a Scottish cafe owner called McDonald, even though the business in question dated back well over a century. Other legal battles include:
- Pursuing a 26-year legal action against a man named Ronald McDonald and his Illinois restaurant (opened in 1956).
- In 1994, McDonald's succesfully forced Elizabeth McCaughey of the San Francisco Bay Area, to change the trading name of her coffeeshop McCoffee, which had operated under that name for 17 years.
- In 1994, McDonald's sued a restaurant in Kingston, Jamaica, because of trademark infringement, although it had opened in 1971, well before McDonald's entered the Jamaican market.
- In 1996, McDonald's lost a legal battle at the Danish Supreme Court to force Allan Pedersen, a mincemeat sandwich vendor, to drop his shop name McAllan.
- In 1996, forced Scottish sandwich shop owner Mary Blair of Fenny Stratford, Buckinghamshire to drop McMunchies as her trading name.
- In 2001, McDonald's lost a 9-year legal action against Frank Yuen of McChina Wok Away, Chinese takeway outlets in various part of the UK.
- In South Africa, however, McDonald's had to battle against the country's trademark laws, which stated that a registered trademark had to be used within a certain period of time. This resulted in a local company announcing plans to launch its own fast-food chain using the McDonald's name, although the South African High Court eventually ruled in McDonald's favor.
In July 2001, McDonald's was fined £12,400 by Surrey magistrates for illegally employing and over-working child labor in one of its London restaurants. This is thought to be one of the largest fines imposed on a company for breaking laws relating to child working conditions.
Also in 2001, Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation included scathing criticism of McDonald's' business practices. Among the critiques are allegations that McDonald's (along with other companies within the fast-food industry) uses its political influence to increase their own profits at the expense of the health of the nation and the social conditions of its workers. While the book does mention other fast-food chains, it focuses primarily on McDonald's.
In 2003, a ruling by the UK Advertising Standards Authority determined that the corporation had acted in breach of the codes of practice in describing how its french fries were prepared. A McDonald's print ad stated that "after selecting certain potatoes" "we peel them, slice them, fry them and that's it." It showed a picture of a potato in a McDonald's "fries" box. In fact the product was sliced, pre-fried, sometimes had dextrose added, was then frozen, shipped, and re-fried and then had salt added.
In June 2004, the UK's Private Eye reported that McDonald's was handing out meal vouchers, balloons, and toys to children in pediatric wards. This was especially controversial as the report was made within weeks of a British Government report stating that the present generation may be the first to die before their parents due to spiraling obesity in the British population.
Also in 2004, Morgan Spurlock's documentary film Super Size Me produced negative publicity for McDonald's, with allegations that McDonald's food was contributing heavily to the epidemic of obesity in American society, and failing to provide nutritional information about its food for its customers. Subsequent to the showing of the film at the Sundance Film Festival, but before its cinematic release, McDonald's phased out its Supersize meal option and began offering several healthier menu items, though no link to the film was cited in this decision. They also began a practice of putting all nutritional information for all menu items in light grey small print on the reverse of their tray liners. Several other people later similarly ate only at McDonald's for a month, but by choosing menu items more judiciously (Spurlock worked his way through the entire menu over time) and exercising frequently, showed no ill effects.
- Action Alert: Ask McDonald’s to work with the CIW to change conditions in the fields! (2005): "In March of this year, Taco Bell agreed to take responsibility for the abysmal conditions faced by farmworkers who pick its tomatoes. Yet despite strong public support for the ground-breaking agreement, McDonald’s has steadfastly refused to follow Taco Bell’s lead on this simple path to justice."
- Report: The Toy Industry in China: Undermining Workers’ Rights and Rule of Law (September 2005): "The focus of this report is one shop in particular, the Hong Kong-based Kai Long factory in Dongguan City, which produces toys for McDonald’s, KFC, Hasbro* and Mattel... Among the report’s findings are work schedules that surpass the legal limit by at least 36.5 hours per week, pay rates as low as only 59 percent of the local minimum wage, unsanitary cafeterias, dorm rooms housing 22 people each, and employees forced to foot the entire cost of their work-injury insurance and, in some instances, lack of insurance of any kind."
- A Side Order of Human Rights By Eric Schlosser (April 7, 2005): "The need for a corporate edict against slavery in the United States reveals just how bad things have become for farm workers. But it also suggests that the fast food companies now sitting atop America's food system can prevent the sort of abuses that state and federal officials seem unwilling to address."
- Death At McDonalds: "Five Lousy Feet" (January 12, 2005): "An 18-year old McDonalds employee and a deliver truck driver were killed at a McDonalds in Sanford, Florida last week... As with most workplace fatalities, this one was predictable and preventable."
- EEOC Sues McDonald's Franchises in Arizona and New Mexico for Sexual Harassment of Young Workers (February 24, 2005): "The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced at a press conference that it has filed two employment discrimination lawsuits on behalf of teen workers against franchises of McDonald's restaurant in Arizona and New Mexico. The first suit was filed against Pand Enterprises, Inc. for same-sex harassment and retaliation against a class of young men employed at McDonald's in Albuquerque, N.M. The second suit was filed against GLC, Inc., an Arizona corporation, for sexual harassment against a class of young women at its McDonald's restaurant in Cordes Junction, Ariz."
- Government lets McDonalds get away with low pay shame (March 15, 2004): "Companies like McDonalds have reverted to age differentials between adult and younger workers, meaning that they pay most of their employees less than the normal adult minimum wage as the majority are under 20 years old."
- McDonalds-Israel caves in; Corporate Confusion (April 2004): "McDonald's Israel has reportedly reversed its prohibition on its Arab workers speaking Arabic to each other and to customers, but its US headquarters continues to stonewall and provide contradictory information." In this alert, EI explains the latest developments, and urges readers to continue with their effective action.
- Arab workers face prejudice in Israel (March 13, 2004): "Zinaty says her [McDonalds] supervisor, Hazim Natshe, an Arab from East Jerusalem, ordered staff not to speak Arabic while on duty and himself insisted on speaking Hebrew at all times, even when alone with other Arab workers... She claims she was fired for speaking Arabic which, along with Hebrew, is an official language of the state."
- A Brief History of McDonalds Workers' Resistance (2004): "The people who were in the original MWR group started working at a McDonalds in Glasgow, Scotland, between 1996 and 1999. Amongst our number was Shlonghoover who never knew where the line was, Zotard who had phat trousers, Funnywump who'd been sacked by Burger King, Webel who read too much, Bouncer who drank too much, Casper the stoner, Why-Bird the stoner, Benjamin the brawler and Pes the fugitive. We worked for McDonald's for different reasons, but mainly desperation..."
- McDonald's workers join the day of action, but face company threats (2004): "On October 12th 1992 Mark Hopkins, a worker at a McDonald's store in Manchester, was electrocuted by a faulty fat filtering machine. A secret internal company report into the incident concluded: 'Safety is not being seen as important at store level'. The same year, a confidential investigation into McDonald's UK by the UK Health and Safety Executive concluded: 'The application of McDonald's hustle policy [ie getting staff to work at speed] in many restaurants was, in effect, putting the service of the customer before the safety of employees'. McDonald's Crew Training Programme at the time stated: 'Q. When do you hustle? A. All the time.'"
- McDonald's achieved a score of 57 on the Human Rights Campaign 2004 Corporate Equality Index which rates large corporations on policies that affect their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, consumers and investors. The 2004 HRC Corporate Equality Index rated companies on a scale of 0 percent to 100 percent on seven factors. The company achieved a score of 57 on the organization's 2003 Corporate Equality Index.
- Dictionary Definition of 'McJob' is Slap in Face, Says Angry Burger Boss (November 2003): "Welcome to the world of "McJobs", defined by the latest Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as "low paying and dead-end work". The entry is one of 10,000 additions to the latest version of the dictionary."
- McDonald's Worker Resistance: Shaking the Golden Arches (January 9, 2003): "McDonald's Golden Arches, if not beginning to crumble, are beginning to look distinctly shaky. Chairman and chief executive, Jack Greenberg, walked away from the burger giant after 21 years service at the end of last year--this despite an earlier company request to remain at the helm until 2005. McDonald's stock had fallen to one third of its value since Greenberg was appointed CEO in 1998, with shares plunging to a seven year low last Autumn."
- In October 2002 two international trade union groups called for a worldwide consumer boycott of McDonald's to take place on Oct 16. The International Free Trades Union Federation and the International Union of Food Workers claimed the company blatantly disregards labor laws in many countries. Source: AFX European Focus, Oct. 8, 2002
- McDonald's Anti-Union Activities (October 10th, 2002): "Today, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will meet with McDonalds' union activists from around the world to discuss the company's anti-union activities, and the truth behind McDonalds' so-called "people promise". The group of MEPs will include Theo Bouwman, President of the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs."
- In August 2001 a McDonald's operating in Surrey, England was fined 12,000 pounds for overworking some of its child laborers. McDonald's was found guilty of working some of its school-age employees late into the night on school days, often without rest breaks. It was revealed that a 15-year-old girl served burgers and fries for 16 hours during a Saturday. A McDonald's spokeswoman said the company usually only hired employees above school-leaving age, and deeply regretted the lapse. Source: Independent Digital
- NAFTA Labor Accord Ineffective (April 16, 2001): "Mexico, the United States, and Canada have ignored critically important labor rights obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Human Rights Watch said in a comprehensive new study released today."
- In October 2001 an Ohio county judge awarded a former McDonald's manager $5 million after determining that the company had discriminated against him because he has AIDS. The employee claimed that McDonald's had forced him to resign in 1997 because of his disease.
- New Zealand's new industrial law enshrines unions as enforcers of "productivity" and "efficiency" (April 19, 2000): "Some employers have already amended their operations to take advantage of the new laws through arrangements with the unions. At the end of February, the fast-food chain McDonald's negotiated a collective agreement with the Service and Food Workers Union to cover 5,100 workers in 146 restaurants. The deal provided for a 3 percent pay rise and gave formal recognition to the union for the first time in five years. The company said it had been “happy” to reinstate the collective contract, under which most McDonald's workers still earn little more than half the national average wage."
- MOSCOW COURT CONFIRMS McDONALDS VIOLATES LABOUR LEGISLATION in RUSSIA (October 16, 2000): "October 16, 2000. Moscow. Tverskoy Municipal Court in Moscow made a verdict on a suit brought by Eugeny Druzhinin against the McComplex food processing and distribution centre on considering as an illegitimate the severe reprimand imposed on him."
- First strike by McDonald's workers (October 2000): "October 2000 saw the first strike by workers at a McDonald's restaurant in Italy. There are five McDonalds outlets in Florence, three of which are managed directly by McDonald's Italia and two are franchises, and the strike hit the franchised restaurant in Via Cavour, in the city's historic centre. The restaurant has about 30 employees (mainly university students who work part time), and some workers have long been alleging intimidatory actions on behalf of the restaurant franchisee, in particularly towards unionised workers. Some workers who claim to have suffered from repeated maltreatment had referred their cases to magistrates."
- McDonalds sacks Chinese toy maker (September 8, 2000): "A factory in southern China has been told to stop producing toys for the burger giant McDonalds, after investigators found that it had breached a code protecting workers' rights."
- Activists claim McDonald's toys made with child labor (September 6, 2000): "Labor rights activists claim that toys distributed at McDonald's restaurants in Hong Kong are made with child labor in China."
- The Burger International revisited (August 1999): "Last November, LBO reported that a group of mostly-teenage McDonald's workers in Squamish, British Columbia, had voted to join the Canadian Auto Workers, despite barely legal union-busting tactics as recognizably McDonald's as the Golden Arches. Throughout contract negotiations this year, McDonald's lawyers have challenged the CAW on every legal technicality they could invent -- including the legality of a strike vote and a bizarre interpretation of Canadian child labor laws. Says CAW organizer Roger Crowther, "They won nothing but that's not the object of the game. The point is to wear down the union.""
- McDonald's workers in British Columbia vote on union decertification (July 7, 1999): "The union has accused McDonald's and the franchise operator of stalling the contract talks to allow enough time to elapse for a decertification vote to be held. The owners deny there is any connection between the contract negotiations and a worker's petition to oust the union."
- Finnish McDonald's workers unionise (November 1998): "McDonald's has signed an agreement with the hotel and restaurant workers union in Finland covering 1,500 workers at 30 restaurants. Two thousand five hundred employees of 55 franchised restaurants are not covered by the contract. Concern over random work schedules, low wages and part-time employment was the common reason cited by workers for joining the union."
- Cheap Labour No Longer (July/August 1998): "On a rare balmy February afternoon this year about 50 young workers, students and community activists gathered outside a McDonalds restaurant in central east Montreal, shouting slogans such as, "On veut pas McPoulets; Ce qu on veut c'est du respect." They were protest protesting against the recent closure of a McDonald's in nearby St. Hubert just weeks before a union certification vote was to be held."
- Disney & McDonald's Linked to $0.06/Hour Sweatshop in Vietnam (May 2, 1997): "Seventeen year old women are forced to work 9 to 10 hours a day, seven days a week, earning as little as six cents an hour in the Keyhinge factory in Vietnam making the popular giveaway promotional toys, many of which are Disney characters, for McDonald's Happy Meals. After working a 70 hour week, some of the teenage women take home a salary of only $4.20! In February, 200 workers fell ill, 25 collapsed and three were hospitalized as a result of chemical exposure."
- Download (PDF): WORKER REPRESENTATION UNDER THREAT? THE MCDONALD’S CORPORATION AND THE EFFECTIVENESS OF STATUTORY WORKS COUNCILS IN SEVEN EUROPEAN UNION COUNTRIES
(See also related Praise item)
- McDonald's a "Green Business"? I Resign (May 19, 2003): "Increasingly, corporations such as McDonald's have tried to direct the concept of a green business to recycled tray liners, reduced waste stream, and other molecular flows. Those are important issues and require our attention and diligence. But doing so does not make a business green. Green refers to the environment, to ecology. It is about the awareness that we are part of a complex living system, not simply trying to be part of a short term fix. Integral to that system are human beings-their lives, their bodies, their wages, and how they are treated and respected."
- On Corporate Responsibility: A Ronald McDonald Fantasy (June 2, 2002): "McDonald's April 14 "Report on Corporate Social Responsibility" is a low- water mark for the concept of sustainability and the promise of corporate social responsibility. It is a melange of generalities and soft assurances that do not provide hard metrics of the company, its activities or its impacts on society and the environment."
- Greenpeace Denounces Food Industry Double Standard on Gene-Altered Ingredients (August 26, 1999): "Greenpeace is calling on Nestlé, McDonalds, and Pillsbury to end their double standards in selling genetically engineered foods to European consumers and U.S. consumers. These food companies keep the use of genetically engineered ingredients secret from U.S. consumers while making pledges to European consumers to avoid those ingredients."
- Interview Transcripts: Sue Branford (July 1996): "Well, I actually think McDonald's are lying. I think it's virtually impossible for a beefburger producer in Brazil to be operating without buying some beef which comes from areas of Brazil which have been involved in serious environmental damage."
(See also related Praise Item)
- In 2003, McDonald's shareholders requested that the Board of Directors issue a report to shareholders by October 2003, reviewing McDonald’s animal welfare standards with the view to adopt and enforce consistent animal welfare standards internationally. Focusing on the disparity between McDonald's US and UK policies governing animal welfare and their policies for other international operations, the shareholders noted: "Our company has not made known any global program. McDonalds.com makes no reference to improved conditions in the raising of any animals (other than laying hens), transportation of any animals, use of experts, any programs or evaluation methods, performance objectives,or any process, programs, plans, or progress outside the U.S." Source: PETA, 2003
- McDonalds enters animal cruelty debate (April 2, 2002): "Shareholders in fast-food giant McDonalds are to be given the chance to vote on whether the chain should introduce animal welfare standards worldwide."
- McDonald's and Animal Welfare: An Uphill Battle? (February 28, 2002): "Several years ago, PETA launched a campaign against McDonalds. In response, a barrage of columnists, radio DJs, and television personalities condemned the campaign for being too graphic. Since the time that PETA launched that campaign, McDonalds Animal Welfare Council had laid down several new sets of guidelines regarding the well being of the animals they farm. But what are they and will they be sufficient?"
- Slaughterhouses Butcher Animals Alive, Review Finds (May 7, 2002): "It takes 25 minutes to turn a live steer into steak at the modern slaughterhouse where Ramon Moreno works. For 20 years, his post was "second-legger," a job that entails cutting hocks off carcasses as they whirl past at a rate of 309 an hour. The cattle were supposed to be dead before they got to Moreno. But too often they weren't..."
- June 19, 1997: In the verdict for the infamous 'McLibel' case, Justice Bell substantiated the claim that McDonalds was "culpably responsible for cruel practices in the rearing and slaughter of some of the animals which are used to produce their food..."
Marketing to Children
- McDonald's is listed in a Government Accounting Office database of more than 900 publicly traded companies that have restated their financial results because of accounting irregularities since the beginning of 1997. McDonald's was listed for a 1998 restatement for issues related to costs or expenses. Source: Government Accounting Office
- In May 2003 , 24 groups were awarded $10 million in a settlement with McDonald's after the company previously apologized for not giving the public "complete" information about the way its french fries are cooked. The court case was brought about by vegetarians who claimed they were fooled into thinking the fries were free from animal products. In 1990, McDonald's announced that it would cook its fries in vegetable oil, making them acceptable to vegetarians. However, in 2001 it was discovered that in North America the fries are first cooked at plants using beef fat, and then frozen before being shipped to outlets for further frying. The company acknowledged that it may have confused customers over its practices. McDonald's was forced to state that in India, where cows are considered sacred, its fries did not contain any beef. McDonald's offered 60 percent of the settlement to vegetarian groups, 20 percent to Hindu and Sikh groups, 10 percent to children's nutrition and hunger-relief efforts and 10 percent to promoting understanding of Kosher practices. (See related Praise item.) Source: BBC News/ Associated Press, May 20, 2003
(See also 'Obesity Health Crisis', related Human Rights Criticism item)
- McDonald's and local schools continue partnership to raise funds for education (November 22, 2005): " Tonight several McDonald's Restaurants throughout Kentuckiana will donate a percentage of the proceeds from evening sales between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. to local education partners. All levels - grade, middle, and high - and types - public, private, and parochial - of schools will be represented."
- Marketing to children: Big business, big problem (October 4 2005): "The average child sees about 40,000 commercials a year on television alone, and that figure doesn't include product placements in movies, television shows and, most recently, songs. Ads are now in airports, elevators and even bathrooms. Co-branded products such as McDonald's Play-Doh and SpongeBob SquarePants cereal are another form of marketing, and some companies are now using children as advertisers by enlisting them to tell their friends about new products."
- TV ads market junk food to kids, new study finds, USA (August 2005): "The study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the first to explore the nutritional composition of foods advertised to children using Nutrition Facts labeling."
- WORLD: The Truth about McDonald's and Children (May 22nd, 2005): "But the truly shocking thing is that we've taught our kids how to be fat, too. Obesity rates in American children remained stable throughout the 1960s, but they began to climb in the 1970s. In the past 20 years, the rate of obesity has doubled in children and trebled in teenagers. Kids are starting to clock in as obese as early as the age of two. If we find that surprising, we shouldn't..."
- 'Return of the Mac' - Coming Soon (March 29, 2005): "According to Advertising Age magazine, the fast food chain will pay rappers up to £2.80 ($5) every time a song namechecking the burger is played."
- Obesity Experts, Child Advocates Ask Sesame Street Not to Advertise for McDonald’s (October 2003): "Today, a coalition of obesity experts, health professionals and child advocates sent a letter to Gary Knell, president and chief executive officer of Sesame Workshop, asking him not to show “sponsorship messages” for McDonald’s before or after Sesame Street, a popular children’s TV program."
- If You Pitch It, They Will Eat (August 3, 2003): "The McDonald's Corporation wants to be everywhere that children are. So besides operating 13,602 restaurants in the United States, it has plastered its golden arches on Barbie dolls, video games, book jackets and even theme parks. McDonald's calls this promotion and brand extension. But, a growing number of nutritionists call it a blitzkrieg that perverts children's eating habits and sets them on a path to obesity."
- Goodbye Mr Chips, hello Mr Fries (July 11, 2003): "Last week, McDonald's held a conference for 100 head teachers in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.... Meanwhile, staff from Wilthorpe Junior School, Barnsley, spent two hours serving at a drive-through restaurant, for which they earned £250 for funds."
- McSchool: How Good Burgers Raise Funds (August 2001): "Hamburger chain McDonald's has gained a strong foothold in State schools by offering cheap cheeseburgers, school deliveries and a cut of profits to parents and citizens' associations that send diners to its outlets."
- Children told: Come to school and win a burger (October 1995): "Children who turn up for school lessons are being rewarded with vouchers for McDonald's burgers."
- McDonald's teaching aid is 'brainwashing' (November 13, 1995): "Use of the teaching aids - packed with references to the hamburger giant - was last night slammed as a "frightening intrusion".Some parents fear vulnerable children are being brainwashed."
- Burger Bribery (February 1995): "Primary school children are being bribed with burgers to grass on school vandals."
- Excerpts from the McDonald's 'Activity Pack' (1995): "McDonald's stores were designed for role play in the Nursery, Reception and Year 2 areas with machines, tills, money and food baked by the children. These were made from a wide variety of waste materials and play dough..."
- Transcript of BBC Money Programme Article re: 'Loyalty' Schemes (1995): "Dealing with the exploitative nature of 'loyalty' schemes and the not so innocent concept behind educational packs 'donated' to schools."
- McDonald's Annual Review: Growing Up Together (McDonald's Annual Review 1993): "McDonald's involvement with schools in the past has been primarily through our local restaurants. However, our support for education took a major step forward in 1993 with the creation of McDonald's Education Service."
Public Health Concerns
- In February 2005 McDonald's agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle a lawsuit over trans fats in its cooking oils. The settlement is the result of a lawsuit filed by activist who were seeking to raise public awareness of the health dangers from the trans fatty acids (TFAs) in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats are created in processing vegetable oils and have been found to be as unhealthy as pure cholesterol. The settlement was the result of complaints that McDonald's did not properly inform the public that it had encountered delays in plans to lessen the trans fats in its cooking oils.McDonald's said it will donate $7 million to the American Heart Association and spend another $1.5 million to inform the public of its trans fat plans. Source: CNN, Feb. 12, 2005
- McDonald's Labeling Scheme: Not Lovin' It (November 5, 2005): "Last week, McDonald's announced its latest attempt to mutate into a responsible corporate citizen. Starting in 2006, the fast food behemoth promises to place nutrition information on the "packaging" of most menu items."
- McDonald's to add nutrition info to packaging (October 26, 2005): "Seeking to counter charges that its food is unhealthy and contributes to obesity, McDonald's Corp. announced Tuesday that it will display nutrition facts on the packaging for most of its menu items next year."
- McDonalds to phase out supersize menu items to distance itself from class action lawsuits linking fast food with obesity (April 2004): " McDonalds has announced it will phase out its supersized menu items this year, amid rising awareness that its fast food products are being increasingly blamed for promoting obesity. That's the news you'll read everywhere else, but here's the real story: McDonalds can see it coming: a flood of lawsuits blaming the food giant for widespread obesity."
- The Obesity Crisis: A healthy diet often beyond the means of poor, hungry (September 9, 2004): "While obesity rates are climbing among all ages, races and incomes, evidence shows that the poor are more likely to weigh too much than wealthier Americans."
- The Real Price of a Big Mac (January 9, 2004): "On the news was a report about two girls in New York who were suing McDonald’s because, they claimed, the food made them overweight and sick. At one point in the report, recalls Spurlock, a representative for the fast-food chain claimed its food was, in fact, nutritious. It was at that precise moment that Spurlock, who runs his own production company, says “the bells went off.” He decided to make a documentary—his first feature-length film—in which he would, in an attempt to explore why Americans are so fat, eat at McDonald’s three times a day for 30 solid days."
- Expert blames obesity on food-industry marketing (November 6, 2002): "Although Americans need to take individual responsibility for their own eating and exercise habits, and their children's, rising obesity rates show that's no longer enough, Nestle said."
- In November 2002 McDonald's and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) came under fire for a partnership in which money will be donated to UNICEF through the sale of certain food items at specific locations of the fast-food chain. Critics say that UNICEF, as "the world's foremost advocate for children" should be dedicated to the well-being, including good health and nutrition, of children everywhere, while McDonald's "Big Macs and Happy Meals are popular, but ...high in fat, sugar and calories, and a cause of obesity and Type 2 diabetes." Source: CorpWatch
- In 2001, a Toronto family initiated a $11.2 million (US) lawsuit against McDonald's Canada after a severed rat's head was partially ingested by a nine-year old girl. The remains of the rat's head was found between the toppings of a Big Mac. According to the lawsuit shortly after biting into the sandwich the girl noticed the rodent "complete with eyes, teeth, nose and whiskers. " The suit also claims "the rat and the Big Mac sandwich were partially ingested by (the girl)." Source: Chicago Business
- Until Februaray 2006, McDonald's falsely said its fries were free of gluten and milk or wheat allergens. Source: Associated Press
The McDonald's Obesity Case
- McDonald's targeted in obesity lawsuit (November 22, 2002): "The US fast food industry and health campaigners are watching closely a lawsuit filed on behalf of several obese teenagers who claim the fast-food company McDonald's is responsible for making them fat."
- Lawyers revise obesity lawsuit against McDonald's (February 21, 2003): "Lawyers who last month couldn't get a federal judge to bite on their claims that McDonald's food was responsible for making their clients fat went back to the counter for a second helping Thursday, filing a revised complaint accusing the fast food giant of making misleading nutritional claims."
- McDonald's obesity suit thrown out (September 4, 2003): "A federal judge Thursday threw out a class-action lawsuit by two Bronx teenagers claiming McDonald's used false advertising and that the chain's food made them fat and contributed to their health problems."
- 'Cheeseburger bill' puts bite on lawsuits (October 20, 2005): "The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would block lawsuits by people who blame fast-food chains for their obesity."
Political Influence / Litigation
reprinted from Opensecrets.org (click for full profile & previous cycles):
2006 PAC Summary Data
Select a Cycle:
Begin Cash on Hand
End Cash on Hand
Date of last report
September 30, 2005
| Contributions from this PAC to federal candidates|
(11% to Democrats, 89% to Republicans)
|Contributions to this PAC from individual donors of $200 or more||$90,154|
PAC Contributions to Federal Candidates
|House Candidate||Total Contribs|
|Biggert, Judy (R-IL)|| $2,000|
|Blunt, Roy (R-MO)|| $5,000|
|Bonilla, Henry (R-TX)|| $2,000|
|Brown-Waite, Ginny (R-FL)|| $1,000|
|Cantor, Eric (R-VA)|| $2,500|
|Collins, Mac (R-GA)|| $1,000|
|Foley, Mark (R-FL)|| $1,000|
|Hastert, Dennis (R-IL)|| $5,000|
|Hayes, Robin (R-NC)|| $1,500|
|Inglis, Bob (R-SC)|| $1,000|
|Keller, Ric (R-FL)|| $2,000|
|Kingston, Jack (R-GA)|| $1,000|
|LaHood, Ray (R-IL)|| $1,000|
|Linder, John (R-GA)|| $1,000|
|McIntyre, Mike (D-NC)|| $1,000|
|Melancon, Charles J (D-LA)|| $1,000|
|Northup, Anne M (R-KY)|| $1,000|
|Nunes, Devin Gerald (R-CA)|| $1,000|
|Ryan, Paul (R-WI)|| $1,000|
|Tiberi, Patrick J (R-OH)|| $1,000|
|Total to Democratic House Candidates:||$2,000|
|Total to Republican House Candidates:||$31,000|
The McLibel Case
The McLibel case is the colloquial term for McDonald's Restaurants v Morris & Steel, an English court action for libel filed by McDonald's Corporation against unemployed environmental activists Helen Steel and David Morris (often referred to as The McLibel Two). The original case lasted seven years, making it the longest-running court action in English history.
Although McDonald's has technically won two separate hearings of the case in the UK courts, the partial nature of the victory and drawn-out litigation has turned the case into a matter of serious embarrassment for the company. Because of this, McDonald's has repeatedly announced that it has no plans to collect the £40,000 it was awarded by the courts, and offered to pay the defendants to drop the case. Since then, certain aspects of the trial has been declared by the European Court of Human Rights to be in violation of the Convention on Human Rights.
Beginning in 1986, London Greenpeace, a small environmental campaigning group (not to be confused with the larger Greenpeace International organisation), distributed a pamphlet entitled What’s wrong with McDonald’s: Everything they don’t want you to know. This publication made a number of allegations against McDonald's, including that the corporation sells unhealthy food, exploits its work force, practices unethical marketing of its products towards children, is cruel to animals, needlessly uses up resources and creates pollution with its packaging and is responsible for destroying the South American rainforests .
In 1990, McDonald's responded by filing a libel suit against five London Greenpeace supporters, Paul Gravett, Andrew Clarke and Jonathan O'Farrell, as well as Steel and Morris, for distributing the pamphlet on the streets of London.
Although none of these individuals were alleged to be the actual authors of the pamphlet, they faced large financial penalties and a difficult court battle unless they retracted and apologised for its content and ceased its distribution. English libel law significantly differs from libel laws in other jurisdictions. Under English law, the primary purpose of the legal system is to protect the reputation of the accuser. The burden of proving the literal truth of any potentially disparaging statements made therefore falls to the defendant. For a number of years, McDonald's were thus perceived to have been able to use the English libel laws to prevent public criticism being made against them. During the 1980s, the company threatened to sue more than fifty organizations, including Channel 4 television and several major publications. Because of such precedents, Gravett, Clarke and O'Farrell felt that they had no practical alternative but to apologise as demanded. Steel and Morris on the other hand refused to back down and decided to fight the case.
However, the two had no formal post-secondary school education, and few financial resources. Furthermore, they were denied legal aid by the courts. Although the pair were deemed no legal match for McDonald's enormous legal assets, they represented themselves, receiving much free legal advice, and doing enormous amounts of research in their spare time.
A major mistake by McDonalds' lawyers when filing the case was asserting that all claims in the pamphlet were false. Although some of the claims were somewhat weak; those involving the rain forests, for instance; other claims were less controversial. The corporation found itself on trial before the British people and the world, particularly with regard to those claims involving the health of McDonald's food and labour practices. The case became a media circus, especially when top McDonald's executives were forced to take the stand and be questioned by the two self-taught lawyers.
On June 19, 1997, Justice Roger Bell handed down an 800-page decision in favor of McDonald's. Although a legal victory for McDonald's, the case had long since been deemed a Pyrrhic victory for the company, as Bell's decision found that the defendants proved many of the points made in the London Greenpeace pamphlet. Thus, Bell noted that McDonald's did endanger the health of their workers and customers by "misleading advertising", that they "exploit children", that they are "culpably responsible" in the infliction of unnecessary cruelty on animals, and that they are "antipathetic" to unionization and pay their workers low wages . Furthermore, although the decision awarded £60,000 to the company, McDonald's legal costs were much greater, and the defendants lacked the funds to pay it. Steel and Morris immediately appealed the decision. Worse, evidence that surfaced during the trial regarding McDonald's business practices proved extremely embarrassing for the company. It has been estimated that the case has cost McDonalds £10,000,000 and it is often described as the biggest public relations disaster in history.
Appeals and further cases
Later, the defendants learned McDonald's had not only hired spies to infiltrate London Greenpeace, but that the company had hired agents to sleep with members and break into their offices. In addition, it was learned the company abused its connections with law enforcement to obtain information on the defendants. The pair later sued Scotland Yard, and received £10,000 and an apology.
The decision of the appeals court further supported allegations in the London Greenpeace leaflet that McDonald's mistreated their workers, and that McDonald's food was a cause of heart disease. As a result, the award was reduced to £40,000. By this time McDonald's had no intention of collecting the money, and had abandoned any plans to block distribution of the leaflet.
European Court of Human Rights appeal and February 2005 outcome
Steel and Morris appealed to the House of Lords that their right to legal aid (to ensure a fair trial) had been denied. When that body refused to hear the case, the pair filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), contesting the UK government's policy that legal aid was not available in civil trials.
In September 2004, the human rights action was heard by the ECtHR. Lawyers for the McLibel Two argued that the original trial pitted a poor, powerless pair of individuals against the wealth and might of a great corporation and breached the pair's right to freedom of expression and to a fair trial.
On 15 February 2005, the pair's 20-year battle (and 11-year court battle) with the company concluded when the ECtHR ruled that the original case had breached article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered that the UK government should pay the McLibel Two £57,000 in compensation.
In making their decision, the ECtHR criticised the way in which UK laws had failed to protect the public's right to criticise corporations whose business practices affect people's lives and the environment (which violates article 10) and criticised the biased nature of the trial due to the defendants' lack of legal aid, the complex and oppressive nature of the UK libel laws, and the imbalance in resources between the parties to the case (which violates article 6).
In response to the ECtHR's decision, Steel and Morris issued the following press release;
- "Having largely beaten McDonald's...we have now exposed the notoriously oppressive and unfair UK laws. As a result of the...ruling today, the government may be forced to amend or scrap some of the existing UK laws. We hope that this will result in greater public scrutiny and criticism of powerful organisations whose practices have a detrimental effect on society and the environment. The McLibel campaign has already proved that determined and widespread grass roots protests and defiance can undermine those who try to silence their critics, and also render oppressive laws unworkable. The continually growing opposition to McDonald's and all it stands for is a vindication of all the efforts of those around the world who have been exposing and challenging the corporation's business practices." 
As of October 2005, McDonalds has not commented on the decision.
Further reading and references
- McLibel, burger culture on trial by John Vidal (New Press, 1998) ISBN 0333694619 (hbk), ISBN 0330352377 (pbk), ISBN 1565844114 (US).
- McWorld on Trial, an extensive article on the case from the point of view of Dave Morris and Helen Steel appears in The Raven, issue 43 (published by Freedom Press) 
- Health and Safety: In 2003 McDonald's announced a new purchasing policy that will restrict the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in the meat McDonald's purchases. In 2002, McDonald's announced that they had stopped buying poultry treated with fluoroquinolones, a class of antibiotics (including Cipro) that are critical for treating infections in humans. Source: Environmental Defense- June 17, 2003
- Charitable Giving: After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade center and the Pentagon, McDonald's donated $1 million for relief efforts. Source: United Press International, Sept. 20, 2001
- Disclosure In August 2001 McDonald's announced it would start providing the flavoring ingredients to all its fast-food products online at the company's website and in pamphlets located in its stores. Previously, the company had used state and federal guidelines for labeling, a system that does not specifically describe the nature of a natural flavor. This led to problems when customers who thought McDonald's french fries were vegetarian found out that the products were flavored with beef. (See related Alert item.) Source: Associated Press, Aug 14, 2001
Diversity: McDonald's has been praised for its Pro-Diversity measures:
- McDonald's has a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation.
- From 2001 to 2002 the number of women and minority McDonald owner-operators in the U.S. increased from 37.3 to 38.3 percent. The company also purchased more than $3.2 million in food and paper products, about 40 percent of its U.S. needs in 2002, from minority and women suppliers.
- McDonald's has signed the MacBride Principles, a religious non-discrimination code of conduct for companies doing business in Northern Ireland.
- McDonald's ranked 1st on Fortune magazine's "50 Best Companies for Minorities" in 2004. The company was cited for having minorities make up more than 20 percent of company officers and 24 percent of middle management. McDonald's ranked 1st in the magazine's 2003 listing.
- McDonald's was named one of "The 50 Best Companies for Latinas to Work for in the U.S." by Latina Style in 2004. Source: Human Rights Campaign, et al.
- Health and Safety: In June 2003 McDonald's announced plans that call for its suppliers worldwide to phase-out of animal growth promotion antibiotics. The "Global Policy on Antibiotics" also creates a set of standards for McDonald's direct meat suppliers and encourages indirect suppliers to take similar steps to eliminate growth-promoting antibiotics and to reduce other antibiotic usage. Source: McDonald's
- Health and Safety: In April 2004, McDonalds initiated measures to attack obesity in the US and overseas. The company agreed to work closely with the US government to monitor and alleviate the growing health problem. Additionally, it will make changes to their menus to offer healthier alternatives Source: Ethical Corporaion, April 20, 2004
- Animal Welfare: In September 2000, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced that it would suspended a campaign against McDonald's for one year in support of the company's efforts to explore the feasibility of buying pig products from suppliers who raise the animals in less cruel conditions. McDonald's was also praised for taking steps to improve the lives of laying hens by increasing cage size, eliminating "debeaking," prohibiting "forced molting" and instituting more humane catching methods for chickens and offering financial incentives to employees who handle the birds carefully by not breaking bones. (see related Alert item) Source: PETA
- Community Involvement: McDonald’s has partnered with VolunteerMatch, a non-profit organization that helps match workers with volunteering opportunities. McDonald’s US employees can access the VolunteerMatch network of 30,000 non-profit volunteer organizations to receive a list of volunteer opportunities identified by individual interest and postcode.The partnership will also make it easier for Ronald McDonald House Charities to find and receive volunteer help nationwide. Source: Ethical Corp.
- Genetic Engineering: McDonald's says it guarantees its poultry in Germany will be GE free from April 2001 onwards, and that it plans to ensure that feed used by its suppliers will soon contain no GE ingredients. (see related Alert item) Source: Greenpeace USA
- McDonald's & Environmental Defense Fund Mark 10th Anniversary Of Landmark Alliance (December 1999): "McDonald's USA and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today marked the tenth anniversary of their groundbreaking alliance by announcing some major environmental milestones that began with their partnership in 1989. McDonald's also announced it would continue to raise the bar on these initiatives, and set a new goal to further reduce energy usage in its restaurants."
- McDonald's, official worldwide website
- www.8mcdo.com, McDonald's Philippines website
- Reports on McDonalds
- McDonald's company news
- Official product information
- DMOZ: McDonald's, directory of links
- McSpotlight website
- McLibel documentary (1997/2005). "The kind of film Michael Moore probably imagines he makes - The Sunday Times
- 'McLibel Two win legal aid case', Guardian website, 15 February 2005
- McLibel pair get police payout on BBC News website 5 July 2000
- Free Speech Groups Hail "Groundbreaking" McLibel Judgment - IFEX
- DMOZ: McDonald's critiques, directory of links
- McLibel, a website about the McLibel case
- Alt.mcdonalds newsgroup FAQ.
- Fast Food Factory by BBC
- Calories in McDonald's food
- The Raw Prawn: Goodbye Golden Arches, a blog about entry about McDonald's UK
- McSpotlight, an "Anti-McDonald's extravaganza"
- McChronicles, "Chronicling the McDonald's brand experience, from the customers' point of view"
- What's Wrong with McDonald's, 1986
- British Activists Sued for Distributing McDonald's Flyers Win Court Case February 16 2005
- The Raw Prawn: McDonald's uses graffiti to woo the US Latino market September 29 2004
- Marginal Revolution: McDonald's tries routing drive-thru orders to a centralized call center, rather than the restaurant itself, July 19 2004
- CBC.ca: Death of McDonald's CEO Jim Cantalupo, April 17 2004
- CBS News: McDonald's Wins Fat Fight
- Ananova.com: McDonald's rolls out home delivery in India
- Advertising Standards Authority ban 'fries' advert
- News for McDonald's ® Franchisees - contains insightful media clippings and articles highly pertinent to McDonalds and franchising.
- WSWS, "US blocks UN proposal to combat obesity" - describes the link between obesity & fast food