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This case examines ethical criticisms of the US fast-food giant McDonald’s, and explores demands for the company to extend its efforts to maintain legitimacy across the globe. The case focuses on the problems of obesity and unhealthy eating that have confronted the company, which are presented in the context of the broader critique of the chain. These issues cover many of the key concepts around ethics, globalization, and sustainability that are discussed in Chapter 1. McDonald’s is truly a multinational corporation. By 2014, the firm was operating some 33,000 restaurants in 119 countries, serving over 64 million customers a day. The market leader in its industry, and one of the most vigorous exponents of a global business approach, McDonald’s has pioneered an innovative business model that has since been widely imitated in the fast-food industry and beyond. McDonald’s is also hugely popular with its core customer base for providing cheap, fun, convenient food, earning it a range of affectionate nicknames around the world including Maccy D’s in the UK, Donken in Sweden, McDo in France, Macca’s in Australia, and Makku in Japan. With 57 million likes, McDonald’s is one of the most liked companies on Facebook. However, McDonald’s has also faced enormous criticism of its business practices across the world since the 1980s. In the US and Europe, McDonald’s has been one of the main corporate targets of environmentalists, animal welfare activists, nutritionists, and social justice campaigners. Not only does the company have the distinction of being the subject of England’s longest ever trial—the legendary 1990s McLibel case—but it was also the unwitting subject of the Oscar-nominated Super Size Me movie, one of the top 20 highest grossing documentaries of all time. McDonald’s has probably faced more store occupations, protests, and online campaigns against it than almost any other company. Nutritionists and healthy-eating campaigners continue to roundly criticize the company for its standard fare of high-calorie burgers and fries that many see as a major cause of spiralling obesity rates, especially among young people. Even its more recent attempts for links to further key readings for links to useful sources of further information on this case Introducing Business Ethics 39 to introduce healthier menu options have often been greeted with scepticism or hostility, either because they are seen as too little too late, or simply not as healthy as they are purported to be. Meanwhile, with increasing affluence in Asia and Latin America leading to a wave of diet-related problems similar to those in North America and Europe—such as escalating rates of obesity and diabetes in children and young adults—many have suggested that the new directions that McDonald’s has taken in some countries should be replicated everywhere it does business.

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