“The basis of our entire business is that we are ethical, truthful and dependable.” These words are as relevant today as they were when spoken by McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc, in 1958.
Why it matters
Human rights are universal rights intrinsic to every human being; they include the right to equality and freedom from discrimination. While individual states have a duty to protect human rights, it is widely acknowledged that businesses also have a responsibility to respect them within their sphere of influence.
With a complex supply chain and a global workforce involving suppliers and Franchisees from diverse locations, cultures and socioeconomic circumstances, McDonald’s has a deep responsibility to respect the rights of people who work for the Company, and to do business with Franchisees, suppliers and business partners that respect human rights for their respective employees. Under the philosophy of “none of us is as good as all of us,” McDonald’s strives to be fair, and to conduct business in a manner that respects people on both sides of the counter around the world.
We recognize there is no single solution to human rights issues, which is why it is critical we engage all stakeholders within the McDonald’s System, including McDonald’s employees, suppliers, Franchisees and business partners, to respect the fundamental rights for all people. Aligned with the Company’s values, this approach protects the integrity of the McDonald’s brand and also helps suppliers, Franchisees and partners protect human rights around the world.
On this page:
Implementing human rights standards
Fostering safe, inclusive, and respectful workplaces, wherever we do business, has been integral to McDonald’s for over 60 years and we will continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards. We take seriously our responsibility to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address any impact on human rights if they occur.
At McDonald’s, we conduct our activities in a manner that respects human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our commitment to respect human rights is defined in our Human Rights Policy, which applies to McDonald’s Corporation and our wholly-owned subsidiaries worldwide.
Our Policy is guided by internationally recognized standards, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the International Bill of Human Rights, and the principles set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Where the Company may impact the human rights of diverse and particularly vulnerable groups, such as migrant laborers, indigenous peoples, women, or children, we are also guided by other international standards that elaborate on their rights.
Our commitment to respect human rights is also set out in our Standards of Business Conduct, which apply to all employees of the Company, and in our Supplier Code of Conduct (“Code”), which applies to McDonald's suppliers globally.
We recognize that respecting human rights is an ongoing process that requires continuous effort. We are committed to regularly assessing our practices and approach, and engaging with expert stakeholders to improve our monitoring, analysis, and remediation of human rights impacts.
Through our efforts to respect human rights we aim to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a global agenda to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all, specifically:
- Goal 5 – Gender equality and inclusive workplaces (specifically target 5.1).
- Goal 8 – Decent work and economic growth (specifically targets 8.7 and 8.8).
- Goal 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions (specifically targets 16.5 and 16.6).
- Goal 17 – Partnerships for the goals (specifically target 17.16).
Read more about our work to support the global goals.
Respecting employee rights around the world
We are committed to providing a safe work environment that fosters respect, fairness and dignity and is free of harassment, discrimination or fear of retaliation. We encourage open and honest communication among Company employees, and we provide many channels for Company employees to report ethics or human rights concerns. This includes an anonymous channel, the Business Integrity Line, staffed by a live operator from an independent company 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
We will not impede state-based grievance processes via our employee system. We do not require employees to waive their right to use such external mechanisms to participate in our hotline. We do not tolerate retaliation of any kind against anyone who reports an issue. We do not tolerate unlawful threats, intimidation, physical, or legal attacks against human rights defenders. We provide access to remediation and encourage our business partners to do the same. We recognize that this commitment should not obstruct access to other remedies.
In 2018, we created a global cross-functional Human Rights Working Group to help oversee the implementation of the Human Rights Policy. This group helps assess and evolve our procedures and practices, considering changing global circumstances and an evolving global policy environment.
In order to help Company employees understand their rights, and their duty to respect the rights of others, the Company provides training to all employees on the Human Rights Policy. The training and our policy are available in 15 languages.
In addition to the online training, in 2019, senior leadership received in-person training in partnership with an external human rights consultancy. Company staff employees are also trained regularly on the Standards of Business Conduct and are required to annually certify their understanding of and commitment to upholding the Standards.
We provide additional training to Company supply chain procurement employees to help them to better support McDonald’s suppliers in understanding the Supplier Code of Conduct and Supplier Workplace Accountability (“SWA”) program. In 2020, for example, we are launching an eLearning module to help procurement employees build a deeper understanding of the SWA program and become more familiar with emerging human rights issues in global supply chains.
Preventing forced labor
As a business, we also support the goals of the U.K. and Australian Modern Slavery Acts. McDonald’s UK published its first U.K. Modern Slavery Act statement in 2017. The Company does not use any form of slave, forced, bonded, indentured or involuntary prison labor.
This also means the Company is committed to ethical recruitment in our employment practices. We prohibit direct or indirect fees or costs being charged to those seeking employment with or who are employed by the Company for the services directly related to recruitment for temporary or permanent job placement, unless legally permissible and within the legal limit. This includes where we may use private recruitment services, a labor broker or employment agent or where we perform recruitment activities directly. Even where such fees or costs are legally permissible and within the legal limit, our policies and practices are designed to ensure that no one is indebted to the Company or to a recruiter, labor broker or employment agent in a manner that prohibits the individual from freely leaving his or her employment. Likewise, we do not retain employees’ original government-issued identification, passports, or work permits as a condition of employment (we may hold copies and/or temporarily hold onto such documents for no longer than 24 hours and to the extent reasonably necessary to complete legitimate administrative and immigration processing and/or comply with local law). Finally, the Company provides any agreements, whether oral or in writing, in a language understood by the person agreeing to be bound and expects that any recruiter, labor broker or employment agent will do the same and will be responsible for ensuring that the agreement is understood by the person agreeing to be bound.
We do not engage in human trafficking or exploitation, or import goods tainted by slavery or human trafficking. The Company is committed to the elimination of any forced labor in our business and our supply chain. McDonald’s Supplier Code of Conduct applies to our suppliers and is aligned with these goals and standards.
Identifying, preventing and addressing discrimination, harassment and retaliation
The McDonald’s System has always had an unyielding commitment to providing a safe and respectful work environment for all. Both the Company and our Franchisees understand that we must provide a positive experience in the restaurant and create an environment where everyone feels respected and valued.
In support of this commitment, in late 2018 we began implementing new, mandatory and interactive training for U.S. Company-owned restaurant General Managers and staff employees on harassment and discrimination in the workplace, as well as sharing this training with our Franchisees and their restaurant managers. Over the course of 2019, we began rolling out additional training modules on harassment and discrimination, and workplace safety for all U.S. Company-owned restaurant employees. The training is designed to enhance understanding of all facets of creating and maintaining professional work environments – from safety and respect to education and empowerment. Restaurant managers and crew will engage through a combination of interactive and computer-based training programs and in-person discussions.
In January 2019, McDonald’s enhanced our discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation policy and training for U.S. staff and Company-owned restaurant employees to provide a more employee-centered approach. Our new policy reflects feedback from stakeholders across the organization including, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other third-party experts. Those conversations helped us to make the language of our policy even clearer and more transparent. The policy, which you can read here, has been shared with all 14,000 restaurants in the McDonald’s US system. We have encouraged our Franchisees to use this policy, along with other resources, to continue to foster a safe and respectful work environment for their employees.
Additionally, the Company offers Franchisees a third-party managed hotline for reporting complaints of any kind. This hotline supplements what Franchisees already offer in their organizations and provide callers with an anonymous way to file a report with their Franchisee. At the same time, we also encourage Franchisees to implement a shared values commitment to workplace safety that includes a mutual understanding and acknowledgement of our collective responsibility in ensuring a safe, healthy and respectful environment.
By strengthening our overall policy, creating interactive training, a third-party managed anonymous hotline and importantly, listening to employees across the System, McDonald’s is sending a clear message that we are committed to creating and sustaining a culture of trust where employees feel safe, valued and respected. Most importantly, it shows we’re changing to meet the needs of our workforce and the communities where we live and operate.
Inclusive contractual practices
McDonald’s is committed to diversity, equal opportunity and an inclusive workplace culture. This commitment is fundamental to the way we do business and we embed it in our policies and practices. We further recognize that maintaining our commitment will require ongoing reflection on and evolution of these policies and practices. In this regard, we are providing greater transparency regarding our approach to certain contractual arrangements we may enter into with employees based in the United States. Specifically, arbitration, noncompetition, and nondisclosure covenants have come under public scrutiny where their overbroad application may result in inequities. With this in mind, we limit our use of such agreements as follows:
- We do not and will not, as a condition of employment, require mandatory arbitration of harassment and discrimination claims;
- While leadership within the officer level, representing less than 10% of the employee population in 2019, sign noncompetition covenants, we do not require as a condition of employment any employee below the officer level to sign post-termination, noncompetition covenants, except in very limited situations as authorized by the General Counsel for an employee who has unique skills, knowledge or access to intellectual property, trade secrets or highly confidential customer information that would provide a competitor with an advantage (e.g., complex knowledge regarding menu innovation or critical technology applications or systems); and
- In the event that McDonald’s seeks a nondisclosure covenant in connection with the settlement of a harassment or discrimination claim brought by an employee or former employee against an officer of McDonald’s Corporation, we will provide notice of such arrangement to the Board of Directors to ensure the Board has appropriate oversight.
Promoting human rights in our supply chain
McDonald’s has a complex global supply chain and we work closely with our supply chain partners in over 100 markets. We know that a large part of the success of the McDonald’s System lies in our trusted relationships with suppliers. We expect all suppliers, regardless of the cultural, social and economic context, to meet our expectations of fundamental rights for all people as established by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. This means treating their employees with fairness, respect and dignity, and following practices that protect health and safety for the people working in their facilities, all in compliance with national and local law. In order to provide goods and services to the McDonald’s System, suppliers must meet McDonald’s high standards. Direct suppliers are required to comply with the standards contained in our Supplier Code of Conduct. We expect our suppliers to hold their own suppliers to the same standards contained in our Supplier Code of Conduct.
The Supplier Code of Conduct is the cornerstone of our Supplier Workplace Accountability (SWA) program, which aims to help suppliers understand our expectations, verify compliance with our expectations and work toward continuous improvement. We launched our first Supplier Code of Conduct in 1993 and have continued to evolve and strengthen it, to reflect updated international human rights standards, consultation with external experts in supplier workplace accountability, a human rights gap analysis and dialogue with suppliers. We expect, and provide guidance to assist, our suppliers to meet the standards for human rights, workplace environment, business integrity and environmental management contained in the Supplier Code of Conduct. We also expect supplier self-excellence in these four areas through their implementation of their own management systems.
McDonald’s Supplier Guidance Document is shared with all suppliers and provides detailed guidance on how a supplier can comply with each aspect of the Code of Conduct and how suppliers and their supply chains can meet our expectations. These documents outline McDonald’s expectation that our suppliers respect the human rights of all people, including particularly vulnerable groups, such as women, children, and migrant workers, including those employed as full or part-time workers, and subcontractors.
The Supplier Guidance Document explains our expectations of suppliers in further detail, including that suppliers:
- Ensure that their hiring process and the hiring process of their recruitment agencies provide people employment under voluntary terms
- Should maintain legally accepted age verification records to demonstrate all workers are of legal working age when they commenced work
- Respect the right of workers to associate or not associate with any group of their choice, as permitted by law, without fear of reprisal, intimidation, or harassment
- Respect the rights of people to bargain collectively where such rights are established by law or contract
Fundamental to our Supplier Code of Conduct is an expectation of ethical employment practices by our suppliers and their supply chain, including subcontractors and third-party labor agencies. Our Code clearly prohibits any form of slave, forced, bonded, indentured, or involuntary prison labor and prohibits suppliers and third-party labor agencies from retaining employees’ government-issued identification, passports or work permits as a condition of employment. We also expect our suppliers to provide their own internal reporting mechanisms, to ensure their employees have a safe and timely way to report workplace concerns without the fear of retaliation.
Grievance mechanisms and due-diligence within the supply chain
Our Code indicates that we expect suppliers to create internal grievance mechanisms and programs for handling reports of workplace grievances, including anonymous reports. Our Supplier Guidance Document provides a step by step best practice process to help suppliers establish an effective grievance mechanism, guided by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. While we require suppliers to provide their workers with their own robust internal procedures to raise issues, our Business Integrity Line and an email to reach the SWA global management team are open to third parties, including suppliers and their employees, if they are concerned with breaches to our Code. Our Code explicitly states that the suppliers’ reporting programs must protect the worker’s confidentiality and must prohibit retaliation in response to reporting issues.
Human rights due diligence is incorporated into the SWA program, which includes on-site audits conducted by third-party auditing firms to assess compliance with our Code. These on-site audits include a review of ethical recruitment practices to verify that workers are employed under voluntary conditions and have freedom of movement. This includes verification that:
- workers are not charged illegal fees as a condition of employment,
- worker contracts are in local language and signed by the worker, and
- suppliers do not retain workers’ government-issued identification, passports or work permits.
Instances of non-compliance are shared with the supplier during an audit closing meeting and in an audit report. Suppliers are required to complete a corrective and preventative action plan to address non-compliance. The plan must provide specific time frames within which corrective action will be taken, root causes analyzed, and policies and procedures updated. In addition, the plan must be designed to avoid recurrence of the non-compliance and establish specific accountability. In instances of significant non-compliance, suppliers are subject to a follow-up audit, the timing of which is based on the audit findings.
McDonald’s SWA program is designed to support suppliers in meeting our standards. However, there are circumstances under which McDonald's will remove a supplier from the supply chain to address instances of significant non-compliance with McDonald's Supplier Code of Conduct.
Our SWA program is built on the model of continuous improvement and we recognize our ongoing responsibility to regularly review and assess the human rights risks along our supply chain.
Supporting continuous improvement of suppliers
Our SWA program is built on a model of continuous improvement and education. We provide suppliers and McDonald’s Global Supply Chain and Sustainability team with training to understand the SWA requirements and human rights issues. The SWA program includes an online training platform where suppliers can access optional tools and resources that provide guidance on human rights issues, such as preventing forced labor. Training modules include: Ensuring Eligibility to Work, Protecting the Rights of Migrant Labor, and Implementing Grievance Mechanisms. The Migrant Labor training, for example, aims to educate suppliers on the risks related to forced labor that arise when sourcing migrant labor. The optional training outlines key actions that suppliers can consider asking to address issues related to migrant workers in their facilities.
McDonald’s also offers optional live training sessions for suppliers with external human rights and supply chain experts. In 2017, McDonald’s teamed up with other AIM-PROGRESS brands to provide optional training to suppliers on the importance of responsible sourcing. Through this coalition, suppliers around the world received training on critical human rights issues, including:
- Training suppliers in Malaysia on forced labor, grievance mechanisms, and managing migrant labor in 2017
- Sessions on health and safety, forced labor, working hours and social insurance for Chinese suppliers in 2018
- Training on forced and child labor, wages and working hours, health and safety for suppliers in Brazil in 2019
Since the launch of the SWA Program, McDonald’s has engaged with thousands of suppliers and facilities to remediate human rights risks identified in the SWA program. We are proud that many of our suppliers have taken their commitments seriously and, in some cases developed their own programs, too. There are several supplier-led compliance and reporting programs in our supply chain — and we have been pleased to see an improvement in compliance overall since the SWA program began.
Verifying compliance against the Supplier Code of Conduct
As of April 2020, more than 4,000 facilities participated in the SWA program. As part of the onboarding process to become a McDonald’s supplier, suppliers must complete the required steps of the SWA program (outlined below) to verify that they can meet our expectations before they begin supplying product to McDonald’s. Our SWA program also includes on-site announced and unannounced audits conducted by third-party auditing firms to assess compliance with our Code.
We work with a number of third-party social compliance auditing firms around the world that have expert knowledge and understanding of local languages and cultures. On-site audits are physical inspections of the facility and include visits to worker housing and cafeterias. The monitoring firms also conduct private worker interviews and review facility records and business practices to assess compliance with the Code. During the on-site audit, auditors check the supplier’s compliance with each aspect of the Code, such as verifying that all workers are of legal age to work. In addition to maintaining legally accepted age verification records, suppliers are also expected to invest in remediation systems in the event an underage person is hired, to assist in their return to their school, or support any other solution that serves the child’s best interest.
Process for verifying compliance
Step 1: Online training to help suppliers understand what is expected of them.
Step 2: Suppliers complete a rigorous annual self-assessment questionnaire to appraise their current systems and practices. This results in a report indicating areas for improvement.
Step 3: Third-party firms conduct announced and unannounced audits, which include inspections of facilities and workers’ cafeterias and accommodation. Auditors also interview workers, and review records and business practices to assess compliance with our Supplier Code of Conduct.
Step 4: The auditing firm shares any noncompliances with the supplier, who is required to produce an action plan to address the noncompliance. The plan must provide specific time frames within which corrective action will be taken, root causes analyzed, and policies and procedures updated. In addition, the plan must be designed to avoid recurrence of the noncompliance and establish specific accountability.
In the case of serious noncompliances, a follow-up audit will be carried out to monitor progress. The SWA program is built on a model of continuous improvement, but if there are instances of significant noncompliance with McDonald’s Supplier Code of Conduct, the Company may remove the supplier from the supply chain. The frequency of subsequent audits is determined based on the results of these onboarding activities.
Monitoring human rights risks within our supply chain and evolving the SWA program
An important element of our human rights due diligence approach is understanding global and national human rights risks and using this information to evolve the SWA program. We assess the potential human rights risks of our supply chains through desk-based research, supply chain mapping, on-site audits and stakeholder engagement.
Understanding and assessing salient risks
To better inform our understanding of human rights risk within our supply chain, we also use risk analytics data to identify countries with particular human rights challenges. A key indicator of risk is the country of origin from which we source products or raw materials. For example, we use analysis of country-level human rights risks to help inform the audit cycles for our suppliers. Facilities located in countries considered to be at high risk of such practices require more regular on-site audits regardless of the outcome of previous audits.
In 2018, an external provider conducted a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) at the farm level to identify the human rights risks associated with various commodities. The assessment enabled McDonald’s to identify which commodities in our supply chain present the greatest risk of exposure to human rights concerns. Of the commodities analyzed, palm oil, tea, coffee, and timber were identified as the highest-risk commodities that McDonald’s sources. The assessment also examined the most salient farm-level human rights risks associated with the production of these commodities. Occupational health and safety, migrant workers, and decent working time were identified as the highest risk issues within the commodities McDonald’s sources.
In addition to the farm-level commodity assessment, the HRIA also included a stakeholder consultation with key NGOs to understand how industry experts view the human rights risks associated with the production of the various commodities, as well as their observations on how the risks can best be mitigated.
The HRIA findings and the corresponding recommendations help us strengthen human rights management frameworks to better identify, assess, prevent, mitigate or remediate salient human rights issues. For example, as we update our sustainable sourcing policies for specific commodities, we use these recommendations to inform our human rights due diligence requirements for suppliers.
We also use the HRIA findings to raise awareness of human rights risks among McDonald’s supply chain staff who procure product for the McDonald’s system. Supply chain procurement staff that work on relevant commodities have taken steps to strengthen risk management procedures and improvement plans. In the spirit of ongoing collaboration, McDonald’s also shared the information from the HRIA with other brands that purchase similar commodities. We are exploring ways to better work with the wider industry to address the issues identified.
Partnering for progress
McDonald’s is committed to engaging with relevant stakeholders to continue to advance our approach to human rights. We engage with stakeholders in our system in a variety of ways. For example, Company employees can provide feedback via multiple reporting mechanisms, including their people managers, human resources, and through participation in surveys. Within our supply chain, external monitoring firms conduct on-site audits of supplier facilities through the SWA Program, including interviews with workers. At the farm level, through the McCafé Sustainability Improvement Platform (SIP), we collaborate with coffee producers to design and implement programs and deliver optional tools and resources that aim to address needs specific to the farming community and improve performance of the farms. The McCafé SIP program also includes needs assessments at the farm level.
We also engage with external stakeholders as we continuously improve our human rights program. For example, in 2019 McDonald’s convened a multi-stakeholder roundtable of human rights experts and advocates on the sidelines of the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights. The group included stakeholders from civil society, academia, the public sector, peer companies and international organizations. The group received an update on McDonald’s supply chain human rights activities and provided feedback and advice on how to advance the program.
To continue to ensure our supplier program addresses emerging human rights issues and risks, we participate in initiatives such as AIM-PROGRESS, which supports responsible sourcing, and Business for Social Responsibility’s Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), which supports implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in a shared-learning forum of more than 40 companies.
We believe that real, systemic change throughout the supply chain requires partnership with industry. That’s why we joined the ICTI Care Program for our Happy Meals toys scheme in 2016, bringing together industry partners to support a sustainable supply chain for the toy and entertainment industry.