Corporate Obligation Towards Public Health:
An examination on McDonald's social performance
It is undeniable that the establishment of fast-food restaurants provide great convenient for the people in society especially those who are busy or in a hurry by preparing and get ready the food in just a few minutes. However, it is common to see the health issues like obesity are closely related to the consumption of fast food especially among the children nowadays. As the societies are becoming more health conscious, McDonald's, as one of the largest fast-food retailer with 32,478 restaurants in 117 countries serving millions of people each day (MCDONALD'S CORP (MCD) 2010), always face the public attack against the food provide or serve by them in their restaurants as one of the main cause of obesity in the society. Hence, it is reasonable for the public to expect more responsibility taken by the fast-food restaurants like McDonald's regarding the health issues among the public which caused by the operation of their businesses. This essay discuss about the performance and how McDonald's respond or react towards the health issues of the public. It examines about the lawsuits against the company regarding the health issues as well as the “Super Size Me” documentary film made in relation to their “Super Size” menu. It also examines on the health campaigns and other efforts carried out by company in order to promote balance and healthy lifestyle as well as the strengnth and weaknesses and impact on the stakeholders in these process.
The case against McDonald's
In general, people normally associate or relate the words ‘fast-food like the brand of McDonald's as ‘junk food' (Deng 2009). It is because beside obesity, the health problems that closely related to fast-food like McDonald's include diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure as well as heart problems (McDonald's Corporation And The Issue of Health and Nutrition n.d.). It is due to the ingredients that they use to produce the food in their restaurant which consist of high level of fat and sugar (McDonald's Corporation And The Issue of Health and Nutrition n.d.).
In the case of McLibel, which is the longest trial in UK history, the two protesters also provided bunches of evidences to discharge themselves from guilty of making one of their statements in the leaflet about the unhealthy of Mcdonald's food (Jeff Elliot n.d.).
Beside the case, the year between 2002 to 2003, a number of teenagers who had their meal more than three times every week at McDonald's brought legal actions against McDonald's over the food provided in their restaurants which caused them to have obesity problem or overweight (McDonald's Corporation And The Issue of Health and Nutrition n.d.). They claimed that the advertisements made by McDonald's are misleading which they thought that the meals provided by the restaurants are healthy (Guardian News & Media 2002). In addition, McDonald's also failed to disclose the nutrition facts of their food (McDonald's Corporation And The Issue of Health and Nutrition n.d.). However, the court held that the McDonald's will not be liable since the claimants failed to show enough evidences regarding the danger of McDonald's food (Obesity and Fast Food n.d.). Even though McDonald's had won the case, the lawsuit had caused the bad publicity of the company which lead to the twenty two percent dropped in their company market share price in that particular year (Guardian News & Media 2002). The people around the world also increase their concern and protest against the unhealthy food due to the lawsuit (Guardian News & Media 2002).
The lawsuit had inspired a man named Morgan Spurlock who decided to make a documentary film in 2004 about himself taking an experiment by eating only McDonald's for thirty days (Obesity and Fast Food n.d.). As the result, he had gained 24 pounds of his weight and got addicted to the fast food (Obesity and Fast Food n.d.). He had successfully proved that obesity and food are closely related (Obesity and Fast Food n.d.). He also put pressure from his film on McDonald's in order to abolish the “Super Size” option in their menu and disclose the information facts of their food (McDonald's Corporation And The Issue of Health and Nutrition n.d.). There are also other versions of this film designed especially for the kids in school (McDonald's Corporation And The Issue of Health and Nutrition n.d.).
The case for McDonald's
McDonald's is trying hard to gain back the confident and trust of the public from the bad publicity and criticism against the company in relation to the health issues. On 16 September 2003, McDonald's had reached agreements with an exercise physiologist, Bob Greene in order to help the company in their Healthy Lifestyle programme (PR Newswire 2003; Wendy Bumgardner 2004). One of the reasons for the company to choose Bob Greene is because he is the personal fitness trainer for Oprah Winfrey, (PR Newswire 2003; Wendy Bumgardner 2004), one of the most popular talk show host in United State. Hence, he will be influencing and convincing enough to educate the public to live in a healthy lifestyle (Wendy Bumgardner 2004). In relation to the programme, McDonald's had introduced a set meal called Go Active Meal on 6 May 2004 (Wendy Bumgardner 2004). This set of meal consists of mineral water, salad, pedometer and a exercise booklet written by Bob Greene which cost only at $ 4.99 (Wendy Bumgardner 2004).
In the year of 2005, McDonald's had carried out a campaign called "it's what I eat and what I do...i'm lovin' it", encouraging the kids to exercise and eat healthily with the intention to cut down the obesity problems in the society to the minimal level (Johannes 2005). In the campaign, the company had developed new advertisements through televisions, giving out brochures as well as printing educational tips on the packaging of Happy Meal for kids with the intention to convey the information regarding balanced and active lifestyle to the public (Johannes 2005). Apart from that, the company also refreshed the look of their Go Active website by putting in the information about active lifestyle (Johannes 2005). There are also quiz called “Finding Your Balance” and virtual training programmes available on the website (Johannes 2005).
Beside that, McDonald's also introduced mini gyms called R Gyms in their several restaurants at California, Colorado, Illinois and Oklahoma (Horovitz 2006). It is designed for the kids at the age ranged from four to twelve years old (Horovitz 2006). The mini gyms are installed with advanced exercise equipments which include Video bikes, Electronic hoops, Climbing equipment, Video dance pads (Horovitz 2006). The kids will receive the electronic compliments which pop out from the screens while they exercise (Horovitz 2006). The gyms not only benefit the kids but also attract more customers and lead to the increase in the sale of the particular store (Ruby, as cited in Horovitz 2006). However, the parents may have the misconceptions that their kids can now consume more fast food since their kids do work on the gyms (Brownell, as cited in Horovitz 2006).
In 8 June 2007, with the afford to defend themselves from the criticism of producing unhealthy food, McDonald's also give chances to the mothers to witness the process on how the ingredients of their products are freshly grown as well as to get access to their suppliers and the kitchen of their restaurants where the fresh ingredients are made into their final products (Macarthur 2007). The mothers also have the chance to share whatever they found through the process on chat rooms, blogs and forums (Macarthur 2007). The mothers involved will also be subsidised throughout the whole process (Macarthur 2007).
There are still a numbers of lawsuits against McDonald's going on regarding the impact of the food provided by them on the public's health. The company is trying hard and doing their best to amend the situation. Millions of cash had been injected as part of the company's investment as to carry out their social responsibility. As for instance, changing the ingredients of the food produced, changing their advertising styles, promoting healthier menu, health campaigns, health educations, charity, sponsorships and many more. On the other hand, the company still cannot fully divert their products from the range of junk foods as their product lines are narrow and this is what their businesses are and where their profits come from. It is necessary for the government as well as those none government organisations (NGOs) to set the relevance measurement and keep an eye on the fast-food company like McDonald's. These organisations may also act as tools or mechanisms of check and balance on the operation of the business of the company.
The company which contribute especially for those acting beyond their social responsibility is a very good example among the society. These actions not only benefit the society as a whole but also to the company's shareholders. Social responsibility is essential for a company in promoting their good reputation as well as the well-being of the company. It helps to gain the trust and confidents from the public and hence ensure a brighter future of the company. Practicing social responsibility by the companies around the world should maintain and should not stop no matter how.