Labour has just refused to associate itself with fast-food giant McDonald’s. In response, the right-wing media and some Labour backbenchers have jumped at the chance to criticise Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party. But there are many excellent reasons for standing up to McDonald’s.
The fast-food chain wanted to have a display at this autumn’s Labour conference in Liverpool. The £30,000 reportedly offered would have been a good little earner for the party, but it was turned down by the Labour National Executive Committee (NEC).
A hostile response
Labour backbencher Wes Streeting soon went running to the Sun on Sunday, saying the decision to ban McDonald’s:
smacks of a snobby attitude towards fast-food restaurants and people who work or eat at them.
Labour peer Baroness Prosser agreed, insisting:
We are not in a position to be turning down money. It’s a mixture of the snobby attitude and somebody thinks it’s the healthier option
The Daily Mail, meanwhile, went with the headline:
Vegetarian Jeremy Corbyn embroiled in ‘snobbery’ row
The truth behind the decision
But the real reasons for shunning McDonald’s had nothing to do with ‘snobbery’ or Corbyn’s dietary choices. According to HuffPostUK, the decision was actually based on McDonald’s poor record on recognising trade unions and its “reputation for zero-hours contracts”. The paper insists that the NEC was:
swayed by feedback on the issue from the Bakers’ Food And Allied Workers Union (BFAW)
The BFAW claims that McDonald’s managers have stopped its activists from trying to attract new members and from leafleting fast-food workers. On Twitter, its ‘Fast Food Rights’ campaign says McDonald’s should work together with the BFAW if it wants to improve its reputation:
— Hungry for Justice (@FastfoodRights) April 18, 2016
Standing up for workers’ rights
In the USA, fast-food workers are currently involved in a fight for union rights and a living wage. The ‘Fight for $15’ movement insists that people should not struggle to make ends meet if they work full time. And Jeremy Corbyn has supported these workers:
It's Fast Food Global Day of Action. Solidarity w/ workers across the world who are fighting for decent pay & rights at work #fastfoodglobal
— Jeremy Corbyn MP (@jeremycorbyn) April 14, 2016
After the recent NEC decision to ban McDonald’s, the ‘Jeremy Corbyn for PM’ page on Facebook insisted the issue:
isn’t some spat over “posh food” vs “junk food”, or just about obesity – it’s the fact that for years, that company has been at the forefront of anti-union practices which affect the daily lives of thousands of their workers across the globe. Low pay, union busting, environmental degradation and tax avoidance aren’t middle class, academic concerns, but issues that go to the very heart of our society and how we organise it.
McDonald’s claims its workers are entitled to join unions and that it is now giving them choices about the type of contracts they want.
Other critiques of McDonald’s
McDonald’s has not only been criticised for how it treats its workers. Here are some other factors to consider:
- Back in 2004, the film Super Size Me slammed McDonald’s for knowingly selling unhealthy food which caused obesity, depression, lethargy, and headaches if eaten regularly. And these diseases have been said to affect lower-income communities disproportionately. In 2014, True Activist listed 10 chemicals and additives present in McDonald’s food.
- The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) insists that the beef industry – in which McDonald’s is a major player – takes up more agricultural land than is used for “all other domesticated animals and crops combined”. Cattle are also “one of the most significant contributors to water pollution and soil degradation, and are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions” – as is the processing of the animals into meat.
- In April 2015, McDonald’s promised to phase out its involvement in global deforestation. But it is still a massive user of palm oil – which is a huge contributor to deforestation and is very difficult to source in a sustainable way.
Walking the walk
If Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party spoke about workers’ rights, the environment, and healthy eating but then accepted money from the likes of McDonald’s, it would almost certainly be accused of hypocrisy. The Conservatives and the SNP, for example, have inevitably lost some credibility on these issues after accepting the presence of McDonald’s at their own conferences later this year.
By banning McDonald’s from its 2016 conference, Corbyn’s Labour has shown consistency between its words and its actions. And however much its opponents try to belittle this decision, such consistency shows courage.
– Support organisations like the WWF .