Some are lovin' it and some love to hate it, but McDonald’s has been a household name for over 50 years. It became a global empire in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was said to be expanding so fast that a new McDonald’s opened somewhere in the world every five hours—its expansion across the globe becoming synonymous with the spread of American ideals. However, McDonald’s soon came to be known for its exploitative work culture as well—so much so that the term McJob was added in the dictionary to mean “a low paying job with no scope of advancement”.
Over the past few years, this exploitation has taken a new form—that of sexual harassment. And now, an international coalition of labour unions has, on May 17, filed a complaint against the fast food giant, alleging systemic sexual harassment of its employees around the world, as reported by AFP.
The document cites witness testimony of “attempted rape, indecent exposure, groping and sexual offers”. The report said the victims—some as young as 16—were mocked or punished when they reported the harassment. Some were even fired. It cited cases of "touching, forced kissing and other forms of unwanted bodily contact" in branches in numerous countries including the United States, Britain, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and France. "Gender-based violence and harassment is part of McDonald's culture," the complaint alleged.
The complaint was filed at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s offices in the Netherlands and lists numerous incidents of harassment—including attempted rape and indecent exposure—across the globe. The complaint is the first-ever case filed related to sexual harassment at a multinational company and claims that the company has failed to comply with the organization’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
According to The Guardian, the complaint was filed in the Netherlands as the unions claimed any actions filed in the US, where McDonald’s is headquartered, would be met with “unclean hands” on McDonald’s’ part because sexual harassment “permeates the top ranks of corporate management” there. The unions also say one of the challenges to this complaint is that McDonald’s insists it is not responsible for employees of its franchised operations, which make up over 90 percent of McDonald’s restaurants worldwide.
“There’s a rotten culture from the top,” said Sue Longley, the general secretary for the International Union of Foodworkers, at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, adding that the fast food giant has “failed dismally to take meaningful action about the problem”.
The complaint does not seek any monetary action, but aims to bring McDonald’s to the table to come up with a plan together to combat sexual harassment at its restaurants worldwide. Lance Compa, an international labor law specialist, said that the complainants cannot force McDonald’s to take action, but these kinds of complaints have proven effective in bringing companies to the negotiation table with unions.
McDonald's said in a statement that they would review the complaint when they receive it. "There is a deeply important conversation around safe and respectful workplaces in communities throughout the US and around the world," they said, stressing that they have a responsibility to take action on this issue.
This is not the first time a problem like this has come up. Last month, two McDonald’s employees from Florida filed a 500 million dollar class action lawsuit, accusing the company of fostering systematic sexual harassment, on the behalf of some 5,000 women from over 100 outlets in the USA. The lawsuit was backed up by Time’s Up, a legal charity that was set up during the #MeToo movement. Last year in November, McDonald’s dismissed their CEO after they found out that he was involved in a consensual relationship with one of the staff members, which was in violation with the company policies. Also, last year in May, McDonald’s was hit with nearly two dozen sexual harassment complaints in the United States and investigated over sexual harassment and racism claims in Brazil.
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