Story at a glance

  • Multiple international workers unions filed a complaint with OECD in the Netherlands over reports of sexual harassment in McDonald's restaurants.
  • This is not a lawsuit, however, and unions hope it will result in a mediation between parties.

Multiple international labor unions have filed a joint complaint to the Netherlands government regarding alleged reports of systemic sexual assault at McDonald’s restaurants. 

The complaint alleges that McDonald’s — as well as the franchise’s two major investors, APG Asset Management in the Netherlands and Norges Bank in Norway — have violated the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development guidelines (OECD).

“The company has a rotten culture from the top, and in our opinion, has failed dismally to take meaningful action to address the problem,” International Union of Foodworkers General Secretary Sue Longley told reporters on a press call. 


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The complaint was filed by the International Union of Foodworkers; the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions; União Geral dos Trabalhadores (Brazil); and the Service Employees International Union (United States and Canada). Collectively, these agencies reportedly represent tens of millions of workers.

“The complaint contains really quite graphic and distressing cases of abusive treatment of workers in the U.S., Brazil, Britain, France, and other countries,” said Lance Compa, an international labor law expert and former professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Relations. 

It was submitted on Monday to the Dutch National Contact Point (NCP) and filed to the OECD, based on the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. This marks the first time any entity has submitted a complaint to the NCP and OECD on gender-based violence or harassment. 

When the NCP receives the complaint, it can ultimately offer a mediation between the workers’ unions and McDonald’s, which the organizers say is their ultimate goal. 

The OECD cannot, however, punish or fine McDonald’s. 


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The organizers said they filed the complaint in the Netherlands because it is a central focus of the company’s operations in Europe. Further, in the Netherlands, corporate entities based in the country are obligated to oversee franchisee relations, and are able to facilitate mediations between plaintiffs and McDonald’s on the European continent. 

So while this is not a lawsuit in which one party can win or lose, filing a complaint with the OECD can bring attention to the alleged sexual harassment across global restaurants and hold the corporation accountable. 

In a statement, McDonald’s Corporation said they will review the complaint when they receive it. The company said it has “a responsibility to take action on this issue and are committed to promoting positive change.”

Included in the complaint are two of the largest institutional investors, who together have invested $1.7 billion in McDonald’s. OECD rules are applicable to investors who then have a responsibility to exercise “due diligence” to anticipate potential problems and violations and to create policies and programs to prevent and remediate “toxic environments such as McDonald’s,” according to Compa.

“McDonald’s has a global sexual harassment problem, and no one should have to go through what we have been through, whether you live in the United States like me, in Europe, Latin America, or anywhere else in the world,” Jamelia Fairley, a McDonald’s worker in Florida and sexual assault survivor told the press. Fairley filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s along with coworker Ashley Reddick in April alleging sexul harassment in the workplace and corporate retaliation after they reported incidents. 

“It’s time for McDonald’s to take responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of all workers who wear the uniform, and I hope this complaint forces the company to do just that,” Fairley said. 


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Published on May 19, 2020