Trade unions and civil society groups lodge international labour complaint on sexual harassment at McDonald’s UK

An international coalition of UK, US, and global trade unions and civil society allies filed a complaint yesterday with the British government under the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s Guidelines for Multinational Corporations in the wake of recent exposés of widespread sexual harassment in McDonald’s UK.  

Citing BBC and other news media reports about hundreds of incidents of sexual harassment, mostly affecting young workers in their teens, unions and their allies say that McDonald’s failure to address the crisis in its UK stores violates the OECD Guidelines’ requirement for corporate due diligence to prevent gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace.

At a hearing of the Business and Trade Select Committee in Parliament on 14 November, Ian Hodson of the Bakers’ Union and Nikki Pound of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) cited multiple episodes of severe sexual harassment ranging from physical assault to lewd comments, with McDonald’s taking no effective action to halt or remedy the violations.

Britain is one of the founding members of the Paris-based OECD, a policy-coordinating body for advanced industrial democracies and economic partners. The OECD Guidelines aim to promote responsible business conduct by multinational corporations in their foreign operations and supply chains, including in franchise systems like that of McDonald’s. Each OECD country maintains a National Contact Point (NCP) to serve as a forum for confidential mediation and conciliation in disputes over the Guidelines.

The labour advocates filed their complaint with the UK National Contact Point, an office within the Department for Business and Trade. The OECD Guidelines call for the NCP that receives a complaint to decide within three months whether to accept the case for review and sponsor mediation of the dispute, after giving complainants and the employer an opportunity to submit their views.

‘The OECD Guidelines’ due diligence requirements emphasise the need for deep engagement by corporations with workers, trade unions, and civil society organisations to address the sexual harassment crisis,’ said TUC Assistant General Secretary Kate Bell. ‘Until now, McDonald’s UK has limited its action to tick-the-box videos and training exercises, with no input from or involvement by affected workers. A mediation sponsored by the UK NCP can change the dynamic.’

BFAWU General Secretary Sarah Woolley said: ‘We hope that a mediation sponsored by the UK NCP will bring us together with McDonald’s UK management to jointly shape a strong policy and strong implementation, with worker involvement from beginning to end, to put a stop to sexual harassment in McDonald’s UK stores.’

Evie Clarke of the CJC said, ‘The extent of the gender-based harassment and abuse faced by McDonald’s UK workers reveals the corporate accountability gap in UK law that allows such abuses to persist. We hope that the OECD’s UK NCP will step in to fill the space where the law is deficient.’

IUF General Secretary Sue Longley said, ‘McDonalds has to stop hiding behind its claim of having “Global Brand Standards”. From the reports we get it is clear that sexual harassment is rife throughout the company – their “Standards” are clearly not implemented, in fact they don’t even seem even to be known outside of their Chicago head office. If McDonalds is serious about tackling sexual harassment they would engage with us, as international standards require.’