The topic area of this research paper is to explore corporate social responsibility. A specific company will be chosen, researched and analyzed in depth to confirm or disconfirm whether it is truly socially responsible in its business practices. The chosen company in question is McDonalds Restaurant. In the past, McDonalds has been seen as both corporately irresponsible and socially responsible and has since been trying to keep its reputation high within its local communities and worldwide. By studying in depth the positive and negative research associated with McDonalds and its business practices, a stronger decision can be made on whether it is truly a socially responsible corporation or is putting on a façade.
From initial research, many articles on social responsibility exist, however literature specifically involving McDonalds and its social responsibility do not. As a result, the topic’s preliminary research started on the company website to obtain an idea of what McDonalds claims to be doing to be socially responsible. The movie “Supersize Me”, in which the producer eats himself into an unhealthy life and body with McDonalds food, has given McDonalds a particularly unhealthy reputation. Yet, McDonalds seems to be going out of its way to battle this reputation. However, the corporations ‘out-of-its-way’ actions lead to questioning whether or not there is a line between doing it out of genuine care or doing it to put on a show. Thus, this research paper serves to test the question of the fine lines of corporate social responsibility.
The approach for answering the questions mentioned above is to research as much as possible to find both negative articles against McDonalds’ approach to social responsibility and positive articles supporting McDonalds and its many social business practices. The goal is to collect as much positive and negative data from all types of sources, such as journal articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, databases and corporate websites. After all the research resources have been exhausted, the articles will be analyzed in terms of relevance to the question at hand and the most relevant examples will be analyzed individually in terms of the ethics of social responsibility. After interpreting all of the research together as a whole, the final result of whether McDonalds is a socially responsible corporation will be answered.
The group expects that the deep research into McDonalds’ intentions will yield more negative results than positive ones. It is expected that McDonalds is trying to put on more of a façade than put into place actual socially responsible practices. Aside from its main and original charity practices, like the Ronald McDonald House and children’s charities, the group expects that the socially responsible acts that the corporation boasts on its website are not more than mere future promises that change with time but never become fully completed.
McDonalds boasts that it prides itself on being environmentally safe and continuously innovative in its business practices. In the past, McDonalds eliminated its polystyrene packaging that had a problem being recycled and turned to newer, more environmentally friendly cardboard packaging. One of McDonalds more recent focuses have been on what they refer to as the “Big Mac Problem”, which is that beef production is one of the highest generators of greenhouse gases and the production practices are inefficient. However, without the pull in the beef production industry and without being able to eliminate the production of beef altogether, McDonalds would like to form a beef coalition, in which it trades with environmentally friendly groups and rallies or pushes many companies and farmers towards reducing greenhouse gases (Warner, 2009). Though McDonalds does not have the pull to change the direction of the beef production industry, it certainly has a plan to create that pull. The corporation has also agreed to help reduce the amount of pesticide used in its potato supply chain by surveying suppliers and picking the ones that have the best pesticide reduction practices (Nation’s Restaurant News, 2009). As well as pesticide reduction, McDonalds has already implemented efficient, environmentally friendly, daily operating practices. The corporation has installed new fryers that are energy efficient and use less cooking oil, thus less waste (Nation’s Restaurant News, 2008).
All around, McDonalds is implementing an act utilitarianism view into all of its environmental practices. By helping the environment, all of society benefits in health, in sustainability and in welfare. McDonalds may be taking smaller steps than what is expected of such a large corporation to help the environment and reduce their carbon footprint, but they are making sure they are benefitting the most people in every way while they do it.
McDonalds is the most popular fast food chain in the world. With that prestige and recognition, comes the weight of both the positive and negative attributes associated with fast food. The largest criticism is by far the overall quality and health of their food. Amid the hype surrounding the 2004 documentry “Super Size Me”, there is a serious underlying issue that needs to be addressed. In favour of low prices and convenience, unhealthy and potentially dangerous fast food is consumed “â€¦an average of 11 times every two weeks” (Heart and Stroke, 2005). This is certainly not a situation unique to McDonalds, but the company receives a large amount of negative attention because of it.
To combat the McDonalds image of unhealthy living and its association with obesity, the company launched several initiatives in the 2003-2005 timeframe. They completely retooled their menu to include Healthy Choices salads, improved Happy Meal options such as: â€¦”low fat white and chocolate milk, apple juice, and Apple Dippers” (White, 2006). With the menu change, came a complete marketing overhaul. This included McDonalds’ new ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ campaign promoting an active lifestyle, as well as the use of Ronald McDonald as a positive health role model for kids. Throughout the launch of the campaigns until the present, McDonalds has remained committed to their new vision, testing such ideas as “mini-gyms” for children in select stores (Horovitz, 2006), and including stepometers with certain purchases (White, 2006).
McDonalds recognized that their previous business practices and overall product were not consistent with what the general public was demanding. The cultural norm has shifted over the last few decades, and the average customer began demanding that options were made available that were consistent with a healthier lifestyle. The company knew it was losing touch with its customer base, and implemented the theory of Ethical Relativism when determining what the best course of action to take was. First, they considered if their actions were the cultural norm. In the past, selling greasy hamburgers and fries may have been enough to appease the public, but today the average person is concerned with their diet and overall lifestyle. This push for an alternative from fast food chains meant that McDonalds had to consider alternate menu options if they wish to meet that cultural demand. Next McDonalds asked if offering only unhealthy options was causing harm to anyone. They saw that by offering only nutritionally poor foods and ignoring the promotion of exercise, people were definitely being hurt. This is represented by the climbing obesity rates, and the escalading rates of heart disease and other diet-contributing diseases. Overall, McDonalds saw that the ethical thing to do was to promote better diet and lifestyle practices in addition to their traditional menu, and went above and beyond what was expected of them to achieve this.
McDonalds has always been very committed to safety, and this is revealed through their commitment to the safety of their toys. The toys included in McDonalds Happy Meals are a staple for kids and parents alike, and McDonalds realizes that it is important these toys are the highest quality they can be. McDonalds has been recognized for their exceptional safety standards by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and acknowledges their contribution of both funds and technology to the commission. According to the Office of Information and Public Affairs, the funds donated purchased, “â€¦a computerized “virtual child” and a life-like “breathing” mannequin designed to evaluate choking and suffocation hazards” (2001). This is a commitment to safety that goes above and beyond what was ever expected of McDonalds, and their track record indicates that their strict protocols are effective.
Act Utilitarianism promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people. McDonalds could have chose to save the money donated to the USCPSC, but decided that the financial ‘pain’ experienced by spending this money is worthwhile when considering the overall well-being of its’ large youth consumer base. McDonalds could have also chose to produce cheap and unreliable toys for their Happy Meals to save money, but again, they have demonstrated that the price of potentially unsafe toys is not worth the small financial gain by doing so.
Ronald Mcdonald House
The Ronald Mcdonald house is just one of the ways Mcdonalds is being socially responsible. The program began in the 1970’s when the first fund raiser launched to help children with leukemia. This program provides housing for families with very sick kids. The homes are nearby to hospitals which helps to keep the families together in a very difficult time for a very low cost (Ronald Mcdonald House). There are 12 Ronald Mcdonald Houses in Canada. Another part of the Ronald Mcdonald House is the Ronald Mcdonald Room. This is a room located within the hospital where the families of sick children can go. This room provides a place for parents and families to do their laundry shower, dine, cook food and use the bathroom facilities. Based on Act Utilitarianism, which is a theory that states that an action is ethical if it creates the greatest amount of happiness or pleasure for the largest amount of people. When Mcdonalds provides services for children with serious illnesses and their families this is creating happiness for all parties involved. The children are able to have their whole family around them in a time that is without a doubt scary for young kids. Because the children have their family’s support and love this benefits the child greatly, as this will assist in their recovery from illness. Ronald Mcdonald House also benefits the parents of the children because they do not have to worry about the hassle of finding a place to live near the hospital at an affordable rate (A World of Charity: Children, families turn to RMHC in time of need, 2005). Parents are able to be close to their children when they are needed the most (Busch, 1998). The actions of the Ronald Mcdonald House are moral because they also conform to the theory of Rule Utilitarianism. Rule Utilitarianism is based on the fact that an action is moral if it creates the greatest good for the greatest amount of people but can also be sustained if everyone took that action in society. If every business in today’s society chose a charity that management felt strongly about this would be sustainable and create the greatest amount of good for all members of society.
McHappy Day is one of McDonalds’ longest traditional events, held annually to help support sick children around the world. This event was established in 1977 as a one-day fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and has raised nearly over 26 million dollars in the past sixteen years (Z99, 2009). On this day, when you purchase a Big Mac sandwich, McMuffin sandwich or Happy Meal, McDonalds will donate $1.00 to its various childrens’ charities, which help support children in desperate need. In addition to the donations collected on this day, 10 cents from each Happy Meal sold regularly is donated to the Ronald McDonald House Program. (Marketwire, 2009)
There are many ways in which someone can support McHappy Days in addition to purchasing the selected sandwiches. There are wristbands available for a donation of $2.00, or you can buy one of the McHappy Day products available for sale such as an apron, mugs, pens, bags, etc. You can also donate online through the McHappy Day website. Proceeds collected by the Ronald McDonald house Charities will help, “â€¦build and maintain houses close to hospitals, allowing ill children to stay close to their families, creating homely retreat rooms within hospitals, and [providing] free holiday accommodation for terminally ill children and their families” (McDonalds, n.d.).
McDonalds’ McHappy Day celebrations are a special day for everyone in the McDonald’s environment. Some locations are visited by “special guests, sports and media personalities, politicians and entertainers as they roll up their sleeves to work behind the counter and show their support” (Marketwire, 2009). This may be the biggest draw for the crowd: seeing celebrities and local figures, “â€¦swap their glamorous day jobs for flipping burgers” (Katu, 2007). For example, last year’s McHappy Day, Senior chief Mike Metcalf of Peel Regional Police visited his local McDonalds restaurant to lend a hand, helping to raise money for McHappy Day. Some of the proceeds from the purchase of selected sandwiches were also donated to the William Osler Hospital Foundation in Brampton, ON and Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga (Silver Creek, 2009). McDonaldsalso holds McHappy Days for elementary and middle schools. Students are given an opportunity to see their teachers flip burgers, deep fry fries, fill drinks and more, on their designated McHappy school days. Teachers hand out McHappy school cards to their students, which are stamped with their schools name and address. When purchasing, they give the cashier the card and $1.00 of their purchase is given to their school.
At the end of the day, employees, customers, volunteers, and sponsors alike embrace the spirit behind McHappy Day; the spirit of joy. They take comfort in knowing that they made a difference and helped someone that was less fortunate then themselves. The actions performed by McDonalds in partnership with the Ronald McDonalds House charities take the characteristics of Act Utilitarianism. One’s actions must promote happiness and avoid those actions that cause unhappiness. The consequences of your actions should matter to everyone, not just those that surround you. McHappy Day promotes happiness for all. It helps the less fortunate by allowing those that wish to make a difference to participate in their community, even though they may be too busy to volunteer in more detailed ways. It truly makes a world of difference for a sick child to know that someone cares enough to participate.
Another way in which Mcdonalds acts in an ethical manner is that they have begun to demand that suppliers treat animals with respect. The current process for slaughtering chickens is: the live chicken is picked up and hung upside down on hooks, they are then shocked in water that has electricity running through it (which does not always kill the chicken) and finally their throats are cut. Mcdonalds is currently working with their animal welfare board to find a more humane way of slaughter called controlled atmospheric killing (CAK) (Garber, 2005). The CAK method puts the bird to sleep painlessly with the use of a gas, which would eliminate a lot of the suffering that is endured during the traditional slaughtering process.
Another action Mcdonalds is taking to promote the better treatment of animals is by asking hen farmers to stop the process of debeaking and molting hens. Debeaking is a common practice as it prevents the birds which are confined to tight cages with several other birds, from killing each other. The process is extremely inhumane, leaving the hens beakless. Mcdonalds has also got it’s suppliers to stop molting hens, this process is carried out when the hen is at the end of their egg producing life. At this point the hens are starved, which makes them produce even more eggs. This process is inhumane as it can result in the death of the hen.
Although this is only a small step in the right direction with respect to the issue of animal welfare, Mcdonalds is moving toward a more humane treatment of food animals. The theory of rights (more specifically animal rights) proves that making sure animals are treated humanely before being slaughtered is the moral action to take. At first blush one may think that it is not in the best interest of Mcdonalds to be sure their suppliers are treating animals fairly because this will only drive the price of meat products up, which in turn will drive Mcdonalds sales down. However, whether Mcdonalds is taking this action out of a sense of duty to animals or to keep their corporate image high in the eyes of the consumer it is the moral thing to do (Fast Food and Animal Rights: An Examination and Assessment of the Industry’s Response to Social Pressure, 2008). The fair and humane treatment of animals can and should be enforced, whether the animal is a pet or being prepared for slaughter, has the right to live as close to it would in nature, be treated fairly, and free from abuse.
Corporate Social Responsibility
“Making Good Business Sense,” written by Richard Holme and Phil Watts, (representing the World Business Council for Sustainable Development) described Corporate social responsibility as the “the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as the local community and society at large.” (Holme & Watts, 2000)
Many feel that McDonalds owes a debt to society, and that any ethically initiated activity that McDonalds takes part in is a ploy to divert people’s attention from the real issue of obesity. However, McDonalds has been interested in portraying the role of a Socially Responsible company for a longer period of time than society’s recent search for a scape goat to take the blame of the wealthiest nations of the world’s rapidly growing obesity problem.
In 2002, McDonalds released its first Social Responsibility Report. This report was a message to the stockholders of McDonalds, and their consumers that they were interested in ethics, and that it played an important position in the role of the company. In the report, McDonald’s stated its various core values such as “Giving back to the communities in which we do business, [being] committed to people and [being] dedicated to providing customers unparalleled levels of Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value. (McDonald’s CSR, 2002) Despite McDonald’s efforts, both the Social Responsibility Report and the company were heavily criticized. “McDonald’s April 14 ‘Report on Corporate Social Responsibility’ is a low- water mark for the concept of sustainability and the promise of corporate social responsibility. It is a melange of generalities and soft assurances that do not provide hard metrics of the company, its activities or its impacts on society and the environment.” (Hawken, 2002) in essence, Hawken and many other critiques argument is that McDonalds used a qualitative one-sided narrative to keep people stockholders happy and consumers spending. They avoided any real issues and just used numbers and data in the scenarios that would make the company look good. McDonalds has released four more CSR reports since 2002. With every new report, McDonalds has committed to increasing the transparency of the corporation to the public, and including more quantitative data rather than simply focusing on future goals. In addition, with every outcry from the public over an issue with McDonald’s business – the company has strived to address the issue and documented the results. McDonalds also has a code of ethics the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Senior officers must adhere. The waiver that each must sign can be listed in the appendix. In addition, Ethisphere even listed Bob Langert, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at McDonalds, one of its top 100 most influential people of 2008. Ethisphere had this to say: “Langert and McDonalds unveiled a state of the art corporate responsibility report in 2008. If your company is working on a CSR report at the moment, it would be a waste not to take a look at McDonald’s for a little inspiration.” (Ethisphere, 2008) This serves as a testimony to virtue ethics. The executive officers at McDonalds are striving to cultivate virtues characters and pursue the right life for the corporation.
Critiques still argue that the CSR reports are biased and many people will argue that McDonalds is a two faced company that is only working on repaying their super sized debt to the world’s health. This will most likely continue to do so for the length of time that North Americans blame other people for their own self indulgence issues that lead to obesity. McDonalds offers a product that people ask for. There are many different types of food that are unhealthy in copious amounts. The restaurant exists however, because there is demand. McDonalds makes enough money that customers are not just paying for food; but they are also paying for McDonalds to take the blame for bad health conditions. However it is important to realize that despite the general mood that people have towards McDonalds, their policies towards maintaining environmental sustainability, auditing supply chains to prevent animal cruelty, supporting children & communities, offering healthy menu alternatives, company transparency and reporting on social responsibility demonstrates that McDonalds has dedicated itself to “behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as the local community and society at large.”
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