French McDonalds employees give ‘chilling’ testimonies of discrimination and harassment

"I know an Algerian who applied and they threw his CV in the trash, without telling my director. So I asked: 'There are no Arabs, there are no blacks?' and I was told: 'Yeah, it's the people who bring the most problems, so no'," according to one testimony of McDonalds' employee in France. [© Ana Gayon Photographies]

Though McDonalds’ French ad campaign continues to be ‘Come as you are’, 114 employee testimonials collected recently in France tell a different story. They include racism, sexism, harassment and even sexual violence. EURACTIV France reports.

The revelations by French independent media Mediapart and StreetPress on 12 October had already damaged the group’s image. The two media recorded 38 testimonies of McDonald’s employees in France, in addition to the 40 already collected by the MacDroits collective, made up of employees and former employees of the group.

Out of these 40 testimonies, seven industrial tribunal and criminal complaints have been filed, the collective confirmed. And, since the survey’s publication, others have spoken out.

To date, 36 additional people have testified on social media, reporting similar incidents in their restaurants.

David v Goliath

“We did a first action on 9 March in front of several McDonalds: collages modelled on those against feminicides, with sentences denouncing sexism, racism, grossophobia, etc.,” Maylis, the spokesperson for the collective, told EURACTIV France.

“We also covered bus shelters afterwards with sentences from the testimonies,” she added.

And some of these testimonies are chilling.

“I know an Algerian who applied and they threw his CV in the trash, without telling my
director. So I asked: ‘There are no Arabs, there are no blacks?’ and I was told:
‘Yeah, it’s the people who bring the most problems, so no’.”

“I used to work at McDonald’s in the past but ended up taking sick leave because of the
homophobic harassment I was experiencing. I was constantly receiving remarks about my
sexuality. I remember in particular the day when I arrived and asked my manager :
‘What’s the programme for me today? He replied: ‘Well, I don’t know, you have
brought vaseline?’. It was too much for me.”

“My franchisee had arrived with his shorts and trousers down, he took my left hand and put it on his genitals.”

Many extracts will be published on a blog, and a report gathering all 114 testimonies is also available online.

“McDonald’s response on Twitter following these publications completely discredited these testimonies,” recalled Maylis. “That’s what motivated our collective to protest,” she added.

On 16 October, the action started in front of a McDonalds in Saint Quentin, in the Paris suburbs, which is the closest to the company’s headquarters.

“A few days before, four women who work in this restaurant had denounced sexual harassment by their manager. We first spoke out there because this McDonalds, which is not even franchised and is located right next to McDonald’s France headquarters, reveals this policy of burying one’s head in the sand,” said the spokesperson.

The police then escorted demonstrators outside the headquarters, who were soon confronted by an external service provider dedicated to crisis management.

In a lengthy press release, the management of McDonald’s France stated that it had “on several occasions offered (…) to receive a delegation to listen to their proposals and to assure them of our full and complete determination to combat all manifestations of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour and all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex, gender and origin”.

However, according to members of the collective, the person sent on behalf of the multinational had tried to intimidate them. “For him, the interview was now or never. But we wanted a meeting where we could prepare ourselves, because they are over-trained to respond to accusations,” the spokesperson argued.

French employment law

In the same press release, McDonald’s further stated that “the brand refuses, in accordance with the principles of presumption of innocence, to comment on any individual situation, internal investigation or legal proceedings that may be underway.”

However, the collective refers to French employment law, which states that the employer is obliged to prevent, punish and put an end to any act of harassment or discrimination and ensure the safety of the person subjected to it, as soon as the facts are reported.

Out of the 40 testimonies collected, all have indicated having warned their management and most of the time, nothing was done, assures the MacDroits collective.

“It has to be dealt with internally first,” explained Maylis. “But McDonalds wants to keep the idea of a big family, of the perfect job for the students. What’s more, the referents are not at all trained to deal with discrimination and harassment,” she added.

However, according to the spokesperson, the victims are facing a wall as they are either encouraged to resign or keep quiet.

“Sometimes they file a complaint, but this is rare because a victim who has not been taken seriously in the workplace, i.e. the place where she was attacked, will find it more difficult to file a complaint afterwards,” Maylis added.

‘If they don’t hear us, we will shout louder’

In 2016, several federations of the French Confederation of Trade Unions (CGT) and the American Service Employees International Union (SEIU) called for a worldwide mobilisation of employees to denounce McDonald’s practices of “social dumping” and “tax evasion”. The European Parliament also received petitions denouncing employee mistreatment at the US firm.

More recently, last May, an international coalition of trade unions, including the European Federation of Trade Unions in the Food, Agriculture and Tourism (EFFAT) sectors, as well as Brazilian, American and Canadian trade unions, filed a first complaint for “systemic sexual harassment”.

In France, the MacDroits collective will not give up either.

“We are currently preparing a letter addressed to the head office to ask for a new meeting date,” said Maylis. “If we don’t get a return within three weeks, we will continue to take action and smear the group’s image. If they don’t hear us, we’ll shout louder,” said the spokesperson.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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