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At annual meeting, McDonald’s shareholders challenge CEO on labor, marketing, lobbying practices

With nowhere left to run, McDonald’s tightens meeting; thousands demonstrate in downtown Chicago

OAK BROOK, IL—If one thing is clear at this year’s McDonald’s shareholders’ meeting, it’s this: Shareholders are not “lovin’ it.” As the corporation has attempted to tighten its meeting with a new, more restrictive admission policy, shareholders traveled from all corners of the country to bring the concerns of tens of thousands of parents, health professionals and workers directly to McDonald’s top executives.

The meeting comes amid escalating public pressure for the corporation to change course. This month, public pressure forced the corporation to end its “540 Meals” infomercials for McDonald’s food in schools. More than 30,000 people are escalating the national call for the corporation to end McTeacher’s Night marketing events. This week, hundreds of workers and labor advocates demanded the corporation treat its workers with respect. And earlier this year, prominent health institutions like the Cleveland Clinic severed ties with the fast-food giant, citing health concerns. Despite PR stunts like “sustainable” beef, McDonald’s has failed to address any of the core demands of these constituencies.

“It’s high time for McDonald’s to dig its head out of the sand, power down the PR machine, and change course,” said Sriram Madhusoodanan, director of the Value [the] Meal campaign at Corporate Accountability International. “The corporation cannot continue to claim to respect kids, families and workers while doing the opposite. How much longer can CEO Steve Easterbrook ignore the public’s demands?”

Inside the meeting, Madhusoodanan defended a resolution that urges the corporation to analyze how its political contributions and membership in trade associations align or diverge from its stated values. Earlier this year, Corporate Accountability International released a report that exposes the ways McDonald’s and other junk food brands use trade associations like the National Restaurant Association to oppose policies like raising the minimum wage and labeling GMO food. Despite its lobbying activities, however, McDonald’s continues to claim to respect workers’ rights, the environment, and transparency.

Shareholders, including faith leaders, investors and parents, joined Madhusoodanan to question ways the corporation has claimed one thing and done another.

Rabbi Linda Motzkin, a shareholder, challenged the corporation’s claims of healthfulness. In particular, she questioned the ways the corporation markets junk food to children, despite past claims to the contrary.

“McDonald’s claims on its website to be ‘committed to doing the right thing,’ but it’s not the right thing to use marketing gimmicks, such as McTeacher’s Nights, Happy Meals, and Ronald McDonald, to turn children into consumers of unhealthy quantities of saturated fats, salts and sugars. It is not the right thing to pretend that a Happy Meal with a few apple slices added is part of a ‘wholesome choice’ for family nutrition.”

Small business owner Cathy Dreyfuss echoed health professionals from Tampa to Houston who have equated McDonald’s in hospitals to the tobacco industry’s tactic of selling cigarettes in hospital gift shops decades ago.

“McDonald’s perpetuates a toxic food culture that is responsible for America’s diet-related disease crisis,” Dreyfuss said on behalf of medical student Azeen Anjum. “When will you realize that McDonald’s undermines health professionals, and has no place inside a hospital?

Statements from today’s shareholders’ meeting are available here.

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Available for additional comment:

Richard Hausman: Hausman is an investment and asset management professional with more than 20 years as the research director at a Vermont-based asset management firm. He has also served as a Vermont state legislator.

Sriram Madhusoodanan: Madhusoodanan is the director of the Value [the] Meal campaign at Corporate Accountability International. Since its launch in 2009, the campaign has organized tens of thousands of health professionals, mothers, public health experts and workers’ rights advocates to challenge McDonald’s kid-targeted marketing practices.

Jennifer McDowell: McDowell is a McDonald’s shareholder, special education teacher and mother of three from Pittsburgh, PA.

Rabbi Linda Motzkin: Motzkin is a rabbi and community leader in Saratoga Springs, New York, and a mother of three.

Mark Noltner: Noltner is a teacher and parent in the Chicago area. He has experienced McTeacher’s Night marketing events in his daughter’s school.

Jose Oliva: Oliva is the assistant director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, a coalition of worker-based organizations that work together to build a more sustainable food system that respects workers’ rights, based on the principles of social, environmental and racial justice.

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