Yesterday, as part of an action organized by Corporate Accountability Interational, I had the opportunity to attend McDonald’s 2015 Annual Shareholders Meeting and ask new CEO, Steve Easterbrook, if he is ready to commit to ending his company’s predatory marketing to kids. As a teacher, it is particularly concerning to me that McDonald’s uses schools as its own personal ad space. I know the importance of keeping marketing out of schools, especially when the brand promoted is fueling today’s health epidemic. That’s why I asked CEO Easterbrook, “will you commit to respecting schools as commercial-free zones and stop targeting our children?” In response to my question, Andrew McKenna, McDonald’s Non-Executive Chairman, stated that “CEO Easterbrook will deal with that at the podium shortly after I leave.” But Easterbrook did not, in fact, address my question and I am still waiting for a response.
As we’ve seen time and time again McDonald’s is eager to brush off criticisms—either by outright ignoring them as was the case yesterday, through deception, as was the case at last year’s meeting, or by giving superficial lip-service when what is needed is substantive change.
You see, McDonald’s regularly sends Ronald McDonald, the brand’s most powerful icon, into schools. McDonald’s claims he’s there to promote pro-social messages and skills but the reality is that he’s there to exploit the innocence and inherent vulnerabilities of children in order to create lifelong customers.
CEO Easterbrook has been touting McDonald’s new turnaround plan to make McDonald’s a “modern, progressive burger company.” But as Leah Segedie pointedly asked Eastrook yesterday, “What kind of modern, progressive burger company sends a clown to school?”
McDonald’s even uses educators to sell kids on junk food by hosting McTeacher’s Nights, where teachers “work” at a local McDonald’s in hopes of raising much-needed funds for their schools. Parents and children are encouraged to eat at McDonald’s so they can see “their very own educators serve up hamburgers, fries and shakes.”
I’m not the only educator who is fed up with McDonald’s forays into schools. Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, forcefully told CEO Easterbrook that “McDonald’s exploits tight school budgets to incentivize schools to host ‘McTeacher’s Nights,’ where teachers become brand ambassadors, and inadvertently market junk food to trusting students. While McDonald’s gets free labor and the kind of marketing money cannot buy, children and families pay the costs of diet-related disease for years to come.”
Schools should be bastions from our highly commercialized society, not ad spaces for global corporations. While I wait for my answer from CEO Easterbrook, will you join me in telling McDonald’s to stop its exploitative marketing in schools?