An international group of labour unions filed a complaint against McDonald’s on Monday, accusing the company of alleged “systematic sexual harassment” of its employees around the world, AFP reported.
The complaint has been filed at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s offices in Netherlands. The labour unions chose Netherlands as it is the “nerve centre” of the company’s European operations. McDonald’s is the largest restaurant chain in Europe and it employs over five lakh people in the country with 90% working in franchises.
The complaint cited witness testimony of “attempted rape, indecent exposure, groping, and sexual offers”. It added that some girls, as young as 16, said they were “ignored, mocked, or punished when they reported it [the harassment]. Some had their hours cut back and others were fired”.
“Gender-based violence and harassment is part of McDonald’s culture,” the complaint said.
According to The Guardian, one woman alleged that a male coworker groped her and another male colleague asked her how much it would cost to have sex with her one-year-old daughter. The woman, who is now a minimum-wage activist, said that after she reported the incidents, her hours were cut back. “No one should have to go through what we have been through.”
The complaint added that there were cases of “touching, forced kissing and other forms of unwanted bodily contact” in the restaurants’ food chains across the world including the United States, Britain, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and France among others.
A manager at one of the restaurants in France “installed a cellphone camera in the women’s changing room, and secretly filmed young women changing their clothes”, the complaint read.
General Secretary of the International Union of Foodworkers Sue Longley said, “McDonald’s workers have sounded the alarm about sexual harassment and gender-based violence for years.” She added that a “company with a culture rotten from the top has failed to take meaningful action to address the problem”.
Longley said that the Dutch government should use this complaint to empower workers. “Because McDonald’s has neglected to act to create a safe workplace, the Dutch government should make use of this complaint to empower workers to effectively address the rampant harassment they face under the Golden Arches,” she added.
The unions said that this is the first-ever complaint brought to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to take aim at systematic sexual harassment at a multinational company.
In its statement, McDonald’s said that it will review the complaint when they receive it, adding that they were a “people-first company”.
“There is a deeply important conversation around safe and respectful workplaces in communities throughout the US and around the world,” the company said. “Around the world, we believe that McDonald’s and its business partners have a responsibility to take action on this issue and are committed to promoting positive change.”
The complaint also mentioned two investment banks – APG Asset Management of the Netherlands and Norges Bank of Norway – that together have holdings of $1.7 billion (Rs 128.68 crore approximately) in the food giant. The complainants said that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s own guidelines “require due diligence by institutional shareholders in companies to ensure responsible business conduct”.
The Dutch government will now examine the complaint, and it is has three months to decide whether to launch a process of mediation with the food giant. Lance Compa, an expert on international labour law, said that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development does not have the power to fine or penalise the company.
The complainants hope that mediation “could lead to an agreement and a template for McDonald’s operations around the world,” and in particular to allow “workers to bring their own experiences and ideas to the table to help shape policies to combat harassment and gender-based violence”.
The unions include the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions and the Service Employees International Union of the United States and Canada. They said they brought the case to Netherlands because in the United States, where the company is headquartered, McDonald’s “insists it has no responsibility for employment conditions, employment relations, or workplace abuses in the more than 90% of its stores operated by franchisees.”
Last year, the company sacked its Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook after they found that he was involved in a consensual relationship with one of the staff members, and this was in violation with the company policies.