When determining appropriate sponsors for a health organization, it is not enough to look at a company’s nutrition portfolio and be swayed by “healthier” options (which, as you know, are not the same thing as “healthy” options). It is also important to consider corporate behavior. Do these companies engage in harmful environmental practices? How do they treat laborers? Do they fund front groups that battle public health?
Today, Corporate Accountability International, the Small Planet Fund, and Eat Drink Politics released a joint report penned by public health lawyer Michele Simon titled “Clowning Around with Charity: How McDonald’s Exploits Philanthropy and Targets Children”.
The thoroughly-researched piece clearly demonstrates how McDonald’s enjoys a huge public relations and marketing boost relative to how little money it donates (“the report’s findings include how McDonald’s philanthropic giving is 33 percent lower than leading corporations and that McDonald’s spends almost 25 times as much on advertising as on charitable donations.”).
More importantly, this gets into the issue of face-saving tactics the food industry employs to deflect from its most egregious acts:
“Why pick on McDonald’s philanthropy? Because the burger giant uses charity as a shield against critics, to distract from its harmful business practices. Over the past several years, public health advocates and groups such as Corporate Accountability International have called upon McDonald’s to “retire Ronald” in light of the mascot’s insidious marketing toward children. In response, McDonald’s says no way, because after all, “Ronald McDonald is the heart and soul of Ronald McDonald House Charities” and provides “educational” messages to children in schools about exercise and nutrition. But by sending Ronald into schools, McDonald’s not only defies common sense (who gets health advice from a clown?) but is also violating its own voluntary pledge not to market in the school setting.
McDonald’s philanthropy does not take place in a vacuum and should be viewed with a critical eye given the serious health risks children face today. McDonald’s charitable activities are mostly self-serving and have significant negative ramifications for public health and policy. While McDonald’s pretends to be “giving back,” it continues to lobby against policies to reduce junk food marketing to children and refuses to pay its workers a living wage, despite growing protests.”
It is important for health professionals to take a step back and understand the bigger picture of corporate behavior to be able to spot public relations stunts meant to appease potential critics.