McDonald’s Gets No Love at Its Annual Shareholders’ Meeting

Yep, being the world’s largest burger chain makes you a pretty big target.

Protesters march to McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, on May 20. (Photo: Andrew Nelles/Reuters)

May 21, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Have we finally gotten to the point where we should start feeling sorry for McDonald’s? The chain is losing money, closing stores, and forever rejiggering a menu that recently seems to defy success. This week, the fast-food icon is taking even more of a drubbing during its annual shareholders’ meeting—which has drawn plenty of protesters too.

So are you feeling bad? Well, probably not just yet.

Shareholder meetings aren’t typically headline-grabbing events, but this week’s gathering has turned into quite the spectacle. On Wednesday, thousands of protesters descended on the Golden Arches’ headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, demanding a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize—no doubt energized by news earlier in the week that Los Angeles would be raising its local minimum wage to $15 (albeit not until 2020).

While police estimates put the number of protesters at around 2,000, organizers claim it was more like 5,000. A new round of protests is scheduled for Thursday as McDonald’s newbie CEO Steve Easterbrook prepares to address the shareholders. Protesters said they are armed with a petition signed by more than a million Americans calling on the company to up its minimum wage and allow workers to form a union.

Meanwhile, as NPR reports, the annual confab has attracted many other protesters who want to take the burger giant to task for a range of questionable business practices, from marketing its dubiously nutritious food to kids to promoting a form of fund-raising called “McTeacher’s Nights,” on which “teachers and administrators work behind the counter at McDonald’s on a given night and invite students to come dine.”

You can only imagine the conversation in the teachers’ lounge when that subject comes up.

Then there are the folks from Toxic Taters, the Minnesota-based grassroots nonprofit that has been working mightily to raise awareness about all the pesticides that are used to grow the gazillion pounds of potatoes McDonald’s turns into its famous fries.

Representatives from the organization showed up at the meeting, but in a release they said they were summarily turned away by the McDonald’s security team.

“I’m doubly disappointed—at McDonald’s failure to meet its 2009 commitment to cut potato pesticides, and at its unwillingness to listen to us today,” Larry Heitkamp, an organic potato farmer from northern Minnesota, said in the statement. “Right now, McDonald’s potatoes are grown with pesticides including carcinogens, endocrine-disruptors, and neurotoxins. I came to share stories of conventional potato farmers who have begun to transition to farming that enhances the entire system and creates nutrient-dense, healthy food. I’m angry that McDonald’s is stifling the possibility for positive change, instead of making the first steps toward more sustainable farming.”

Toxic Taters claims that the rampant use of pesticides on the potato farms that supply McDonald’s with its spuds are having a deleterious impact on surrounding communities, where residents must endure weeks of chemical drift during the growing season. Tests have shown residues of hazardous pesticides inside nearby homes and schools, according to the organization.

It seems like McDonald’s can’t do anything right these days. The company’s recent efforts to generate a little more love, such as announcing it would stop selling chicken raised with the same antibiotics people take or its decision to bump up minimum base wages at its company-owned stores to a dollar above the local minimum, have done little to quell critics. Instead, they’ve tended to dismiss such moves as the rearguard maneuvers of a corporate giant desperately trying to stay relevant, even as it keeps its calculations in check so as not to damage its fragile bottom line.

After all, McDonald’s most recent sales figures showed a 0.6 percent decline in April at stores open at least a year, extending a downward drift in sales that has gone on for almost two years.