‘It’s even worse in Australia’: International unions file complaint against McDonald's over systemic sexual harassment

A union representing some fast food workers in Australia hopes an international sexual harassment complaint lodged against McDonald's will highlight issues experienced by its members.

An international sexual harassment complaint had been lodged against McDonald's with a local union saying the problem is "even worse" in Australia.

An international sexual harassment complaint had been lodged against McDonald's with a local union saying the problem is "even worse" in Australia. Source: AAP

The union representing some fast food workers in Australia is considering joining an international complaint against McDonald's alleging systemic sexual harassment at its franchises. 

The Australian Retail and Fast Food Workers Union has accused McDonald's of a serious culture of sexual harassment and abuse of female employees, many of them children. 

An international group of labour unions has lodged a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the Netherlands over what it says is systemic sexual harassment of McDonald's staff.

"McDonald's workers have sounded the alarm about sexual harassment and gender-based violence for years, but a company with a culture rotten from the top has failed to take meaningful action to address the problem," Sue Longley, general secretary of the International Union of Foodworkers, said in a statement.

"Because McDonald's has neglected to act to create a safe workplace, the Dutch government should make use of this complaint to empower workers to effectively address the rampant harassment they face under the Golden Arches," she said.

Local unions say McDonald's has serious issues here in Australia as well.
Local unions say McDonald's has serious issues here in Australia as well. Source: AAP

The complaint also targets two investment banks, APG Asset Management of the Netherlands and Norges Bank of Norway, which together have holdings worth $1.7 billion in the food giant.

The unions said it was the first time a complaint had been brought to the OECD to tackle systematic sexual harassment at a multinational company.

The document cites witness testimony of "attempted rape, indecent exposure, groping, and sexual offers." 

It said the victims, some as young as 16, "said they were ignored, mocked, or punished when they reported it. Some had their hours cut back and others were fired."

It also cited cases of "touching, forced kissing and other forms of unwanted bodily contact" in branches of the food chain in numerous countries including the United States, Britain, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and France, among others.

Allegations in Australia

Secretary of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, Josh Cullinan, said they had been documenting cases of sexual harassment and assaults in Australia and were looking to collaborate with international unions who had lodged the complaint.

“It’s even worse here because the vast majority of workers, 80 per cent are under 21 years of age and over half are under 18, are children, and that makes them particularly vulnerable,” he told SBS News.

The union wants the company to require all managers to have working with children's checks. 

He said there had been many complaints received by the union of members being grabbed and harassed at the drive-through window or at the serving counter and that management had been made aware of these issues and were not taking them seriously.

“Those kinds of behaviours of direct sexual harassment of children and other adults are just common at McDonald’s. Everyone at McDonald’s will have a story to tell and these are always raised with management,” he said.

He said the company had refused to introduce a policy of forcing drive-throughs to have a camera to capture license plate numbers of customers who harassed staff.

McDonald's Australia said they took the accusations seriously. 

"The health and safety of our people is our priority and we take any incidents or accusations of harassment in the workplace extremely seriously," the company told SBS News in a statement. 

"We have robust policies in place to guide, protect and assist our people." 

"All McDonald’s restaurants have CCTV installed, operating and capturing footage in our drive throughs and throughout our restaurants in the best interests of the safety of our people and our customers," they added. 

In response to the international complaint, McDonald's international said in a statement it would review the complaint when it had received it, stressing that the food giant is a "people-first company".

"There is a deeply important conversation around safe and respectful workplaces in communities throughout the US and around the world," the company said. 

"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," it added.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit . In an emergency, call 000.

4 min read
Published 19 May 2020 at 1:13pm
By Jarni Blakkarly
Source: AFP, SBS