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McDonald’s Workers Take Fight Against Sexual Harassment to the World Stage

May 19, 2020

By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY – This week, a group of international unions filed a complaint in the Netherlands aimed at pressuring McDonald’s to finally address and resolve the systemic abuse many workers say they experience on the job.

McDonald's is under increasing pressure to address poverty wages.
A complaint against McDonald’s at the OECD could finally lead to a safer workplace for employees subjected to on the job harassment and abuse.

They filed with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — unions say this is the very first time that OECD has received a complaint regarding sexual harassment and gender-based violence. 

“We are going to deliver a complaint today to the Dutch National Contact Point for OECD guidelines and that complaint will detail the failures by McDonald’s global management to address what we think is rampant sexual harassment and gender-based violence at its restaurants in over 70 countries,” said Sue Longley, general secretary, International Union of Foodworkers. 

Lance Compa, an international law expert, explained during a Monday media call, that in 1976 the OECD created guidelines by which multinational corporations are expected to respect and adhere to human rights, environmental protections, as well as labor and employment standards. 

“They’re not laws….they create expectations, but they create obligations that multinational corporations are expected to adhere to in their international operations,” Compa said.

He also noted that the complaint mechanism against multinational enterprises is facilitated vis-à-vis national contact points for each OECD’s member government. 


This week’s complaint was filed with the Netherlands’s NCP because it was described during the call as the nerve center of McDonald’s European operations.


The ultimate goal of the complaint is for the NCP to offer or sponsor mediation between the parties. But Compa was quick to note that the NCP can’t force McDonald’s to do anything because it’s a soft law system and there are no binding measures. 


However, it’s proven to be an effective process. In the more than 40 years since the guidelines were adopted, there have been numerous mediations.

“Of 400 complaints filed over the years, about 100 cases went through the entire process of mediation, and out of that, half resulted in agreements acceptable to both parties that really advanced the interests of the workers on whose behalf these complaints were brought,” said Compa. 

In addition to the McDonald’s complaint, the unions also lodged a further complaint with two of McDonald’s largest institutional investors—APG Asset Management in the Netherlands and Norges Bank in Norway. Together, they have almost $2 billion invested with the company.  

“The OECD guidelines are applicable as well to investors in multinational enterprises, and investors also have a responsibility to exercise due diligence and to exercise the influence they can bring to remediate the kinds of violations that we see taking place in the area of gender-based violence and harassment at McDonald’s,” Compa said. 

The Netherlands NCP has up to three months to assess the complaint and to make a judgement on whether to accept it and recommend mediation. 

The unions, which include the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions and the Service Employees International Union [SEIU], said they brought the case in the Netherlands rather than the company’s home country of the United States because McDonald’s “insists it has no responsibility for employment conditions, employment relations, or workplace abuses in the more than 90 percent of its stores operated by franchisees.”

Jamelia Fairley works for a corporate-owned McDonald’s restaurant in Sanford, Florida, and she’s also a leader in the U.S.-based Fight for $15 movement to raise retail and food sector wages.

When she reported lewd comments and then touching by two male co-workers to her superiors, she said that McDonald’s reduced her hours rather than investigate the incidents. 

“I’m so grateful for the support of unions worldwide that filed this complaint. It strikes right at the heart of McDonald’s argument that it isn’t responsible for employees,” Fairley said. 

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

In a statement, McDonald’s said it would review the complaint. 

“There is a deeply important conversation around safe and respectful workplaces in communities throughout the US and around the world.

“Around the world we believe that McDonald’s and its business partners have a responsibility to take action on this issue and are committed to promoting positive change,” the company said. 

May 19, 2020

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