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McDonald’s Corporate Responsibility: A paradox or a sign of things to come?

McDonald’s caught my attention again recently with the release of their 2010 Corporate Responsibility (CR) report. I have to admit to feeling incredibly torn, as I read through the report and 2011-2013 goals that McDonald’s has established. On the one hand, the awareness and effort to move towards a more corporately responsible state is a great sign of industry momentum in favour of social responsibility. On the other hand, McDonald’s product traditionally collides with the principles of corporate responsibility, which would make a global claim to corporate responsibility and sustainability misaligned. But is it misaligned if this is a glimpse of what’s to come in the future?

The concept of corporate responsibility is one that permeates through not just what a company says, but also in what they do, how they do it, and the essence behind the product or service they offer. Integrity, responsibility, and ethical consideration of all areas of business and product or service development are the holy grail of corporate responsibility that CR practitioners work hard to help companies achieve. Some companies get it, others don’t – and increasingly, I believe that the public can tell the difference and are holding companies accountable.

In McDonald’s case, the very core of what their product is, how it is produced, and what it actually stands for has traditionally been held to be in direct conflict with the meaning of corporate responsibility: mass produced fast food lacking in many of the essential nutrients we need. Food that has been engineered to taste delicious, but adding little to no benefit to the body. In addition, customers are almost always prompted to consume more of it: “Did you want to super size that?” A rather disturbing practice considering obesity and Type II diabetes are universally on the rise. Good for the bottom-line, not so good for society.

The phenomenon of McDonald’s food itself has been so interesting that in 2004, Morgan Spurlock made the documentary, Super Size Me, to capture the effects of McDonald’s on him when eaten daily. Since then, McDonald’s food itself has also become an internet meme. Customers all over the world took to their make-shift labs to test how long McDonald’s food would take to rot. We have all heard of the 12-year old burger and fries, and Joann Burso’s perfect year-old Happy Meal. Although, by far, the best test I have seen is by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt in his variable-controlled test in A Hamburger Today.

All this to say – the current perception is that although McDonald’s is a fun brand with delicious food, when it comes to food quality and long-term nutrition, McDonald’s severely falls short.

But what about their CR report? The report itself outlines all the major CR areas of concern that I would be interested in:

  • Corporate Governance & Ethics
  • Nutrition & Well-being (including marketing guidelines)
  • Sustainable Supply Chain
  • Environmental Responsibility
  • Employee Experience
  • Community

This in itself is very promising. It suggests McDonald’s is looking at CR and sustainability from the holistic perspective I was talking about above. Apart from this, it would also seem that McDonald’s has been working on the above areas since 2004 (interesting, the same year Super Size Me was released). Read more


McWedding under the Golden Arches?

Health and nutritional issues aside, a lot of people love their McChicken, McNuggets, and McFlurry – but what about a McWedding?

Ever since Hong Kong allowed weddings to be held outside City Hall and places of worship in 2006, residents are getting creative with where they can say their “I do’s”. One couple who had met and dated at a McDonald’s location later decided to have their wedding there last year. Their special day triggered Hong Kong’s McDonald’s to start to offering wedding packages for other McDonald’s fans.

As CNN reports, the first packages were made available in January of this year. And the response? You’d be suprised. Already, between fifty and sixty couples have started their McWedding planning with McDonald’s. Couples can order a full McDonald’s catered meal, an apple pie stacked wedding cake, and have an assortment of wedding games for the bride and groom. No alcohol is allowed. Instead, toasts are made with soda pop or milkshakes, but no one seems to mind.

In a recent article by The New York Times, the cultural reasons for the McWeddings are discussed by anthropologist Gordon Mathews.

“The generation getting married today grew up doing their studying at McDonald’s,” Mr. Mathews said. “That was one of the chain’s prominent roles in the 1980s and 1990s — as a safe haven where students could study and stay off the streets.

“In the U.S. and other places, middle-class or upper-middle-class people look down on McDonald’s,” he said. “But Hong Kong is different. A McDonald’s wedding wouldn’t be seen as tacky here.”

The article points out that “if anything, McDonald’s is seen as a relief from strict cultural rules”, and a greater emphasis is placed now on just having fun. Whatever the cultural underpinnings, young Hong Kong brides and grooms-to-be can now get married under the golden arches for a mere $1,280. If that’s not another selling point, I don’t know what is.

So what say you? Would you opt for a McWedding?

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