The Evils Of Mcdonalds

McDonald's make a lot of people angry for a lot of different reasons.

Nutritionists, for example, argue that the type of high fat, low fibre diet promoted by McDonald's is linked to serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. The sort of diseases that are now responsible for nearly three-quarters of premature deaths in the western world. McDonald's respond that the scientific evidence is not conclusive and that their food can be a valuable part of a balanced diet. Some people say McDonald's are entitled to sell junk food in exactly the same way that chocolate or cream cake manufacturers do: if people want to buy it that's their decision. But should McDonald's be allowed to advertise their products as nutritious? Why do they sponsor sports events when they sell unhealthy products? And what on earth are they doing opening restaurants in hospitals?

Conservationists have often focussed on McDonald's as an industry leader promoting business practices detrimental to the environment. And yet the company spends a fortune promoting itself as environmentally friendly. What's the story? One of the most well-known and sensitive questions about McDonald's is: are they responsible for the destruction of tropical forests to make way for cattle ranching? McDonald's say no. Many people say yes. So McDonald's sue them. Not so many people say yes anymore, but does this mean McDonald's aren't responsible? They annually produce over a million tons of packaging, used for just a few minutes before being discarded. What environmental effect does the production and disposal of all this have? Is their record on recycling and recycled products as green as they make out? Are they responsible for litter on the streets, or is that the fault of the customer who drops it? Can any multinational company operating on McDonald's scale not contribute to global warming, ozone destruction, depletion of mineral resources and the destruction of natural habitats?

McDonald's spend over two billion dollars each year on advertising: the Golden Arches are now more recognised than the Christian Cross. Using collectable toys, television adverts, promotional schemes in schools and figures such as Ronald McDonald the company bombards their main target group: children. Many parents object strongly to the influence this has over their own children. McDonald's argue that their advertising is no worse than anyone else's and that they adhere to all the advertising codes in each country. But others argue it still amounts to cynical exploitation of children - some consumer organisations are calling for a ban on advertising to children. Why do McDonald's sponsor so many school events and learning programmes? Are their Children's Charities genuine philanthropy or is there a more explicit publicity and profit motive?

The Corporation has pioneered a global, highly standardised and fast production-line system, geared to maximum turnover of products and profits. McDonald's now employ more than a million mostly young people around the world: some say a million people who might otherwise be out of work, others however consider that they are in fact a net destroyer of jobs by using low wages and the huge size of their business to undercut local food outlets and thereby force them out of business. Is McDonald's a great job opportunity or are they taking advantage of high unemployment to exploit the most vulnerable people in society, working them very hard for very little money? Complaints from employees range from discrimination and lack of rights, to understaffing, few breaks and illegal hours, to poor safety conditions and kitchens flooded with sewage, and the sale of food that has been dropped on the floor. This type of low-paid work has even been termed 'McJobs'. Trade Unionists don't like McDonald's either. The company is notorious for the vehemence with which they try to crush any unionisation attempt. They argue that all their workers are happy and that any problems can be worked out directly without the need for interference from a third party, but are they in fact just desperate to prevent any efforts by the workers to improve wages and conditions?

Vegetarians and animal welfare campaigners aren't too keen on McDonald's - for obvious reasons. As the world's largest user of beef they are responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of cows per year. In Europe alone they use half a million chickens every week, all from windowless factory farms. All such animals suffer great cruelty during their unnatural, painful and short lives, many being kept inside with no access to fresh air and sunshine, and no freedom of movement - how can such cruelty be measured? Is it acceptable for the food industry to exploit animals at all? Again, McDonald's argue that they stick to the letter of the law and if there are any problems it is a matter for government. They also claim to be concerned with animal welfare.

In 1996 McDonald's opened in India for the first time: a country where the majority of the population is vegetarian and the cow is sacred. Just one example of the inexorable spread of western multinationals into every corner of the globe. A spread which is creating a globalised system in which wealth is drained out of local economies into the hands of a very few, very rich elite. Can people challenge the undermining of long-lived and stable cultures, and regional diversity? Self-sufficient and sustainable farming is replaced by cash crops and agribusiness under control of multinationals - but how are people fighting back?

So, it seems as though lots of people are opposed to the way McDonald's go about their business. So there is a big global debate going on about them right? Wrong. McDonald's know full well how important their public image is and how damaging it would be to them if any of the allegations started becoming well-known amongst their customers. So they use their financial clout to influence the media, and legal powers to intimidate people into not speaking out, directly threatening free speech. The list of media organisations who have been sued in the past is daunting, and the number of publications suppressed or pulped is frightening. But what are the lessons of the successful and ever-growing anti-McDonald's campaign for those also determined to challenge those institutions which currently dominate society?

Nobody is arguing that the huge and growing global environmental and social crisis is entirely the fault of one high-profile burger chain, or even just the whole food industry. McDonald's are of course simply a particularly arrogant, shiny and self-important example of a system which values profits at the expense of anything else. Even if McDonald's were to close down tomorrow someone else would simply slip straight into their position. There is a much more fundamental problem than Big Macs and French Fries: capitalism. But what about anti-capitalist beliefs like socialism and anarchism? Is it possible to create a world run by ordinary people themselves, without multinationals and governments - a world based on sharing, freedom and respect for all life?