This paper highlights an example of cultural problems confronting global companies in conducting its global businesses. The company of particular focus in the paper is the McDonald’s corporation who is currently recognized as the world’s largest fast food chain (Wikipedia, 2007).
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What Started the Controversy?
In the 23rd of July of the year 1990, McDonald’s announced to the public that their famous “Fries” will be cooked using 100% vegetable oil (Akers). Prior to it, fries are cooked with “beef tallows” or hard fat obtained from cattle, sheep, or horses (Hinduism Today). The effort was to reduce the amount of saturated fat from 42 grams to 23 grams per two-ounce fries (Hinduism Today). However, McDonald found out that their fries cooked in vegetable oil have lost its popular finger-licking taste (Hinduism Today).
For McDonald’s, it seemed like the new taste is no longer salable to the public, which is truly a big problem for the company as it would surely affect its sales. In the effort of preserving its finger-licking taste McDonald’s included “beef flavoring” in the preprocessing (not in cooking) of its fries and hide the scheme by labeling it as “natural flavoring” under the US Government Food Guidelines (Hinduism Today). In short, the company had kept this truth for many years from 1990 until its exposure in 2001.
The Reasons behind the Big Controversy and the Groups Involved
McDonald’s secret “beef content” was later discovered and started a great controversy. Their “natural flavor” scheme was exposed in 2001 by Eric Schlosser in his book “Fast Food Nation” in his remarks that the natural flavor of its fries were obtained from beef (Akers). When the information was exposed to the public, many vegetarian groups reacted.
A native Indian lawyer named Haris Bharti filed a multi-million lawsuit against McDonalds, and many religious groups like Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, and many other vegetarians and vegans supported the lawsuit (Hinduism Today). Bharti claimed the company fooled many of its vegetarian customers who unknowingly consumed beef for many years, and the company must pay the price of their lies (Rediff Group).
Bharti’s suit was so strong particularly due to religious and cultural matters. Many religious groups believed that McDonald’s “natural flavor” scheme is a question against religious and cultural beliefs. For instance, McDonalds have Muslim costumers. In the United States alone, it is estimated that the Muslim population is 7 million. Muslims eat meat but considering it must be slaughtered in accordance with “halal”, but McDonald’s beef were not “halal” (Akers).
Similarly, it also has Hindu costumers. Bharti claimed there were more than 1 million Hindus in the US who unknowingly consumed McDonald beefs (Rediff Group). Subsequently, in India, McDonald’s restaurants faced massive protests leading to the investigation of their fries. However, laboratory tests conducted to its fries in India found no beef in its indian fries (Akers). Other non-religious but vegetarian groups also supported the suit fighting for the unhealthy diet side of the fries.
In March 31, McDonald’s lost to the suit in the Illinois court and was asked to distribute $10 million to appellants (Akers). Aside from it, the company still needs many years to cover up the mess they have created against their vegetarian customers. Otherwise, the price could be higher than the lawsuit figure in the future. McDonald’s owns many fast food chains in different regions around the world. Many other regions may have not been so strict with the vegetarian concept. However, the company can avoid the consequence of the 2001 Bharti suit by providing correct information to the public whichever regions of the world their businesses are conducted.
The case is a very lucid example of the complexities of handling business among different people of diverse culture and beliefs. Many giant companies have capitalized with using bias information and neglected its realizable impact. These companies knowingly disrespected many people. However, many customers have long been aware of the certainty of information bias in businesses.
To many customers, businesses are profit-oriented and have no care to the welfare of the public as long as they are gaining. What happened in the McDonald case is that the company had carelessly abused the fact that not many people know the “natural flavor” compositions and its impact to its diverse customers who also have diverse eating habit and preferences. Apart from McDonald’s many other companies continue to practice unlawful acts to the eye of many people.
Therefore, one very important lesson which many businesses must learn is to keep the integrity of their information. The public must be respected considering the fact that it is from them where businesses gain profits, and therefore must be well-informed particularly in matters of their interests.
Akers, K. (n.d.). McDonald’s Lawsuit Timeline. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from compassionspirit.com: http://www.compassionatespirit.com/McDonalds-Lawsuit-Timeline.htm
Hinduism Today. (n.d.). McDonald's Supersizes Hindu Endowment. Retrieved April 7, 2009, from Hinduismtoday.com: http://www.hinduismtoday.com/press_releases/mcdonalds/
Rediff Group. (n.d.). Bharti's Beef With McDonald's. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from Rediff.com: http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/may/04us1.htm
Wikipedia. (2007, September). McDonald's
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