The suit, filed at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)'s offices in the Netherlands, was the first of its kind to target a multinational company, the plaintiffs said.

Delivery riders queue up outside a McDonald's restaurant in east London on May 13, 2020 after the restaurant opened for delivery only orders as the coronavirus pandemic lockdown continues.
Delivery riders queue up outside a McDonald's restaurant in east London on May 13, 2020 after the restaurant opened for delivery only orders as the coronavirus pandemic lockdown continues. (AFP)

An international group of labor unions said on Monday it has filed a lawsuit against McDonald's for "systemic sexual harassment" at the fast food chain's restaurants around the world.

The suit, filed at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)'s offices in the Netherlands, was the first of its kind to target a multinational company, the plaintiffs said.

"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," said Sue Longley, general secretary of the International Union of Foodworkers, 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.

The lawsuit 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 plaintiffs noted that the OECD's own guidelines "require due diligence by institutional shareholders in companies to ensure responsible business conduct."

The unions said the suit was the "first-ever complaint brought to the OECD to take aim at systematic sexual harassment at a multinational company."

The legal action 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 "groping, touching, forced kissing and other forms of unwanted bodily contact" in branches of the food chain in numerous countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, France, and others.

In France, it cited a case in which a McDonald's manager allegedly "installed a cellphone camera in the women's changing room, and secretly filmed young women changing their clothes."

"Gender-based violence and harassment is part of McDonald’s culture," the complaint alleged.

The suit will be examined by the Dutch government, which has up to three months to decide whether to launch a process of mediation with the company.

The unions, which include the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions and the Service Employees International Union of the United States and Canada, said they brought the case in the Netherlands because in the United States, where the company is headquartered, McDonald's "insists it has no responsibility for employment conditions, employment relations, or workplace abuses in the more than 90 percent of its stores operated by franchisees."

The unions chose the Netherlands because it is the "nerve center" of the fast food giant's European operations, and also the headquarters of APG bank.

Source: AFP