Fast food giant McDonald’s faces an international lawsuit accusing the global chain of sexual harassment on a massive scale. And it’s being supported by Australia’s Retail and Fast Food Workers Union.
In what is believed to be the first such case against a multinational firm, the International Union of Foodworkers filed the lawsuit in the Netherlands, claiming sexual harassment is rampant in McDonald’s outlets around the world, including in Australia.
According to The Australian, the legal action claims witnessed instances of “attempted rape, indecent exposure, groping, and sexual offers”.
McDonald’s accused of sexual harassment
The complaint details failures by McDonald’s global management to address the issue of systemic sexual harassment.
The lawsuit was filed in the Netherlands because McDonald’s entities there are central to the company’s Europe-wide operation, the IUF said.
“McDonald’s workers have sounded the alarm about sexual harassment and gender-based violence for years, but the company has failed to take meaningful action to address the problem,” said IUF General Secretary Sue Longley at a May 18 press conference to announce the complaint.”
The complaint also cites two major financial investors with $1.7 billion in holdings in McDonald’s which the IUF believes should have been alert to the problem of sexual harassment and taken appropriate action.
According to The Australian, the Dutch government has three months to consider whether or not it will pursue mediation with McDonald’s.
The McDonalds’ Corporation has said it will review the complaint when it is received.
McDonald’s responds to harassment claims
When contacted for comment, a McDonald’s spokesperson said, “The health and safety of our people is our priority and we take any incidents or accusations of harassment in the workplace extremely seriously. We have robust policies in place to guide, protect and assist our people.
The spokesperson said there is a “deeply important conversation” around safe and respectful workplaces in communities around the world.
“McDonald’s is a people-first company, and we know that crew are the heart and soul of every restaurant,” the spokesperson 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 spokesperson said all McDonald’s restaurants have CCTV installed, which operate and capture footage from both drive-thru outlets and restaurants.
Retail and Fast Food Workers Union “deeply concerned”
However Josh Cullinan, Secretary of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, said McDonald’s has refused to install cameras on the drive-thru bays of all outlets to capture offenders and their licence/registration plates for police intervention and customer banning.
“Which means we have repeat offenders sexually harassing young women at drive thru bay windows,” he said. “This is all the more remarkable because our members are under constant video surveillance in the workplace.”
Cullinan said the RAFFWU is supportive of the international lawsuit.
“We are deeply concerned that sexual harassment and assaults are common and endemic at McDonald’s in Australia. In some ways it is worse because our Australian McDonald’s workforce is 56 per cent under 18 (children) and 80 per cent under 21 years of age, they are more vulnerable and less likely to come forward about these issues.”
Cullinan said that in negotiations with RAFFWU, McDonald’s has refused to put in place Working With Children Checks for managers and licensees.
“WWCC are a form of ongoing assessment for sexual and other serious crimes which alert employers to conduct of employees and are now common throughout Australia.”
Sexual harassment is a key element of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association’s No One Deserves a Serve Campaign, instituted in 2017 in co-operation with employers, to minimise harassment of workers in retail and fast food by shoppers.
Julia Fox, SDA assistant national secretary, said McDonalds has already agreed to review its HR policy as a result of discussions about sexual harassment in the fast food industry.
“This is particularly important because McDonalds employs so many young women, who are more likely than any other age group to be sexually harassed.”
According to Cullinan “anecdotes are rife” of pregnancies from relationships between teenage staff and managers and supervisors.
He described McDonald’s policies as both “woefully inadequate” and not enforced. The RAFFWU will continue to collate workers’ stories and share them with the international unions involved in the lawsuit.
This story first appeared on sister site Inside Franchise Business Executive.