An international coalition of labor unions has filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s, alleging systemic sexual harassment of its employees around the world.
The complaint, filed at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s offices in the Netherlands, lists numerous incidents of harassment, including attempted rape and indecent exposure in the United States, a promotion in exchange for sexual acts in Brazil, and a hidden cellphone camera installed in the women’s changing room in France.
“There’s a rotten culture from the top,” said Sue Longley, the general secretary for the International Union of Foodworkers, at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, adding that the fast food giant has “failed dismally to take meaningful action about the problem”.
Jamelia Fairley, a McDonald’s worker in Florida who has become a union organizer, alleged that a male coworker groped her and another male coworker asked how much it would cost to have sex with her one-year-old daughter. She said that after she reported the men’sbehavior, her hours were drastically cut.
“No one should have to go through what we have been through,” she said.
The complaint, alleges that McDonald’s has failed to comply with the organization’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and is the first-ever case filed related to sexual harassment at a multinational.
Organizers said they filed the complaint with regulators in the Netherlands because McDonald’s’ Dutch offices were the company’s “nerve center” in Europe.
The unions claimed any actions filed in the US, where McDonald’s is headquartered, would be met with “unclean hands,” on McDonald’s’ part because sexual harassment “permeates the top ranks of corporate management” there.
The complaint does not seek any monetary action, but aims to bring McDonald’s to the table to come up with a plan together to combat sexual harassment at McDonald’s restaurants worldwide.
“Mediation is the goal,” said Lance Compa, an international labor law specialist. “It’s not a case of winning or losing, it’s about coming together and finding a joint solution to this problem,” he said. He said that the complainants cannot force McDonald’s to take action, but said these kinds of complaints have proven effective in bringing companies to the negotiation table with unions.
Labor unions say one challenge is that McDonald’s insists it is not responsible for employees of its franchised operations, which make up over 90% of McDonald’s restaurants worldwide.
“[McDonald’s Corporation] is the employer of all who wear the McDonald’s uniform,” said Kristjan Bragason, the general secretary of the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions.
McDonald’s Corporation said in a statement that they will review the complaint when they receive it. The company said that the conversation about safe and respectful workplaces is “deeply important,” and the company and its partners “have a responsibility to take action on this issue and are committed to promoting positive change”.
In May 2019, McDonald’s was hit with nearly two dozen sexual harassment complaints in the United States, filed by the Time’s Up legal defence fund. On the same day, federal labor prosecutors in Brazil launched an investigation into systemic sexual harassment and racism at McDonald’s.
“The majority of these people are humble people and many of them are minors. They’re vulnerable and being subject to situations that threaten their survival,” said Ricardo Patah, the head of Brazil’s General Workers’ Union.
“There is a new global paradigm – together we will eliminate this cancer of sexual harassment.”