McDonalds has been condemned for the past four decades or so for various reasons. One of the main criticisms levelled against it in Europe in the 1990s was the lack of nutrition in its offerings. The type of high-fat, low-fibre diet it promotes is linked to serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. It is true that McDonalds is entitled to sell junk food in the same way other fast food chains do; if consumers want to buy it, that’s their decision. But being a highly successful and influential part of the service industry, should it be allowed to advertise its products as nutritious, when it actively encourages bad eating habits and contributes to obesity rates skyrocketing?
This brings us to our next point, which is false advertising. Failing to provide a balanced menu and not disclosing the nutritional values of food amounts to the cynical exploitation of children. Despite strong objections from many parents regarding the kind of influence promotional schemes have on their unknowing young ones, the company makes use of collectable toys, television ads, and figures such as Ronald McDonald to entice children into consuming large portions of food which are high in sugar, salt and fat.
The fast-food giant started out with an innovative business model and has since been imitated by other companies. It ushered in employment practices that coupled low pay, few rights, and arduous production line work. The poor labour conditions are highlighted by complaints from employees that range from discrimination to understaffing and illegal hours, to poor safety conditions and kitchens flooded with sewage.
The corporation is the world’s largest promoter of meat-based products, the largest user of beef and the second largest user of chicken. Their menus are based on the torture and murder of millions of animals, most of which were the product of intensive farming. They have no access to fresh air or sunlight, and cannot move freely. The firm is clearly culpable of animal cruelty. They are, moreover, held responsible for much litter on the streets stemming from their annual production of more than a million tons of packaging that is to be discarded within the minute.
These criticisms are less likely to be replicated in Asia due to lax food safety laws and the uncommonness of proper healthcare systems. Though there is growing pressure from activists, it is mainly regarding health issues. The absence of factors such as the importance attached to freedom of speech (UK), anti-American sentiment (France), etc. indicates resistance in Asia will never be as strong unless the governments step up to protect the welfare of its citizens.
Though McDonald’s Corporation v Steel & Morris (1997) was ruled in the company’s favour, the case was devastating for it. As a result of “the McLibel case”, campaigns against it mushroomed, negative press coverage shot up, the McSpotlight website was born and a feature-length documentary about the trial was broadcast around the world. But McDonald’s didn’t take the backlash sitting down. To everyone’s surprise, it dropped its supersizing options. It put a range of healthy options on the menu, including salad, grilled chicken instead of fried, flatbreads in lieu of buns, and porridge for breakfast. This campaign for turning around the publics perception of it was backed by booklets detailing the new menu and the healthy options available for children, and sponsorship of sports events and awareness initiatives for young people.
However, since Asian governments (unlike their European counterparts) are not bent on taxing the fast food industry, McDonalds has not reacted at all to the rising concerns in markets like India, China, etc. This is in stark contrast to its strategies in Europe. It seems that it is merely after profits and stakeholder satisfaction. Even so, if it was to implement the same tactics in Asia, the company and its reputation are likely to come out on top.
McDonalds should offer healthy alternatives in all host markets in order to expand and refine its business globally. It should promote healthy eating habits and proper nutrition from the get-go in order to avoid reproval later.
In the case where the customers do not want healthy options, it should try to create awareness about health issues. Some ways to accomplish that are sports programs and information packages containing scientific facts about regular fast food consumption. It has a responsibility towards society to educate its customers and protect them against rising health issues. Only then can it achieve genuine sustainability.