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Top 10 Outrageous McDonald’s Controversies

Big corporations like McDonald’s are bound to face some criticism and drawbacks along their journey. It’s almost impossible to avoid. Over the years, McDonald’s has been accused of many questionable acts, which doesn’t always paint a perfect picture of the company. But, despite everything, there’s no denying that people still love the food! Here are the Top 10 McDonald’s Controversies that left everyone shocked.

10. Is McDonald’s Racist? 

Have you ever been told that you should always read the fine print? Well, for this McDonald’s scandal, it’s exactly what people should have done before jumping to conclusions. A Swedish ad had quite the backlash when it first hit the public’s eye. Many people were offended and beyond insulted by the lack of open-mindedness McDonald’s was displaying. That is until they read the fine print. In big yellow letters, you can read: “We don’t hire Turks, Greeks, Poles, Indians, Ethiopians, Vietnamese, Chinese or Peruvians,” which at first, can understandably make you want to march down the head office and give the people responsible for this a piece of your mind. But, upon further reading, a new light is shed on the controversial ad. It reads: “Nor Swedes, South Koreans or Norwegians. We hire individuals. We don’t care what your surname is. Because ambition and determination have nothing to do with your nationality. McDonald’s is one of the most integrated companies in Sweden, with as many as ninety-five nationalities working for us. Join us at” The definition of a turn of events! This formerly offensive ad is now considered a creative and witty marketing strategy. Not only is the ad not racist, but mcD’s is encouraging diversity! Now, how’s that for not judging a book by its cover!

9. The Strip Search Scam

There’s no question that security should be the number one priority at a restaurant for everyone. Whether you’re the customer or the employee. It should also be a priority to feel safe wherever you go, which is why the pranks by a man named David Stewart were so believable and hard to ignore. For over a decade, he would prank-call fast-food restaurants, telling them he was a police officer and that there was a thief in their establishment. He would then tell whoever was on the phone that they had to conduct a strip search. In 2004, it happened to a McDonald’s in Kentucky, where an employee, Louise Ogborn, matched the description of the thief given by the scammer and had to remove her clothes to be searched. Her colleague, assistant manager Donna Summers, complied with the scammers request, thinking it was actually the police on the line. After over 3 hours of being locked up in an office, and some lurid details involving Summers’ boyfriend, who had taken over watch, Summers eventually called her manager to clear the whole thing up. After the traumatic experience, Ogborn received over $6 million dollars in damages and expenses, and Summers received $1.1 million, on the grounds that McDonald’s was aware of the prank happening at other branches but never warned the employees. This teaches us that sometimes, it might be good to question authority. 

8. Careful, It’s Hot!

You know that label on your cup when you go to McDonald’s that says: “Caution: hot,” and whenever you see it, you can’t help but think, “duh?” Well, there is an actual reason behind why you need a constant reminder that your drink is hot! In 1992, Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman, suffered severe third-degree burns after she spilled a cup of coffee on her lap. After spending eight days in the hospital, receiving major reconstructive surgery, and burning 16 percent of her body, McDonald’s thought they should do something to help. So, they offered her $800. So, sure enough, she sued the company for $20,000 dollars, and when they refused to pay, they took the case to court. When the media took an interest in the case, they painted Liebeck out to be a greedy woman looking for some money, but what they didn’t know was that McDonald’s was not following the proper coffee regulations. Instead of serving their coffee at a standard 160 degrees, they served it at 190, which is even 40 degrees hotter than other companies. McDonald’s was aware of the fact that the coffee was causing serious burns, and yet, they still served it anyway. During the trial, it was revealed that over 700 customers had suffered burns from the McD coffee, which was not something that could be overlooked now that the evidence was right there, out in open. So, the court sided with Liebeck. She was originally going to receive $2.7 million in punitive damages, but the number was reduced to $480,000 since she was found to be partially at fault. Now you know why you constantly see that famous warning label, to avoid lawsuits!

7. Super Size Me

It’s no secret that McDonald’s isn’t exactly the healthiest of foods. In fact, it’s not healthy at all. In 2004, Morgan Spurlock wanted to see just how true that was. He directed a documentary of himself eating nothing but McDonald’s, three times a day for a whole month. During his journey, he tracked the physical and the psychological effects his food intake had on his life. While eating 5,000 calories per day, which is twice the recommended consumption, he gained about 18 pounds, suffered from increased cholesterol, and struggled with depression. All of that after one month. Yeesh. Needless to say that, following the release of the documentary, people were not exactly happy. McDonald’s was under fire for being responsible for so many health problems, like obesity, and people would not stop talking about the harmful effects of fast-food. They didn’t exactly need a documentary to tell them that, but still. Because of all the negative feedback they received, McDonald’s had to remove the infamous “supersize” option from their menus and made some drastic efforts to offer “healthier” options. Then again, some of their salads still have more calories than a Big Mac, so there’s still a ways to go before Mickey D’s is mistaken for health food restaurant. The moral of the story is this: eating McDonald’s once in a while is harmless, but eat it once or more a day, and the doctor will soon be knocking on your door! 

6. The Fight For 15

Having happy employees is the key to a successful business, and over the years, McDonald’s has faced a lot of criticism in regard to the treatment of their employees. In 2014, workers around the globe decided to stand up for themselves and joined the picket lines to protest against the poor treatment they were receiving, and above all, the low wages. The strikes took place in over 150 cities and 33 countries. The unified workers were fighting to up the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, and while today, many locations are way below that number, some have actually managed to pull through. Some people who have been working there for over a decade still make the same hourly salary, even though the cost of living has become way more expensive than it was 10 years ago. This is obviously not a very good reputation for a chain to have. Employees claim that McDonald’s doesn’t really care about them and that whoever said the company couldn’t afford to pay them more money was lying. If the CEO can get raises, so can the workers! Whether it was in Brazil, Japan, or Philadelphia, the strikes represented a form of mass solidarity between low-level workers worldwide, which is not something that is commonly seen but is extremely empowering for the generations of workers to come! 

5. Let’s Talk French Fry

The last thing you would expect to get when you order fries is beef. It’s just common sense. You expect fried potatoes and salt, that’s it. Or so you would think. In 2001, McDonald’s was taken to court after being sued for lying about the way their famous french fries were really made. The company had previously insisted that their fries were cooked in 100 % vegetable oil and even reassured a worried customer in a letter back in the early 1990s. But, as it was later admitted by McDonald’s, vegetable oil isn’t the only ingredient in their acclaimed recipe. Indeed, they also use beef flavoring to give that little pep and recognizable taste that everyone oh-so loves. You can imagine how that can rub some people the wrong way. Especially vegetarians and multiple religious groups. Even though McDonald’s issued an apology saying they were “sorry if there was confusion” and that they would acknowledge “all cultural or religious dietary considerations,” they still use the same beef flavoring today. A little contradictory, isn’t it? McDonald’s eventually had to pay $1o million to various vegetarian and religious groups, but still doesn’t seem to be phased by their own blatant lie. Nonetheless, despite all the controversies associated with their fries, McDonald’s is still thriving and doesn’t seem to have really learned its lesson. If you have any dietary restrictions, maybe it’s best if you steer clear from the beloved fries, at least in the U.S!

4. The McLibel Case

Having a good reputation is extremely important for any restaurant, and for any business actually. One bad review or one crummy rumor can destroy an entire corporation. However, when a British activist group tried to take down McDonald’s, they were met with a big, juicy libel lawsuit. In 1986, the London Greenpeace Group went around distributing leaflets that read, “What’s wrong with McDonald’s – everything they don’t want you to know” and accused the company of littering, mass deforestation, and mistreating animals and workers. Which were pretty solid accusations, when you think about it. McDonald’s was not about to let itself be taken down, so the company sued some of the members of the organization for libel. The trial lasted for several years, and a lot of money was spent to make sure McDonald’s was well represented. $1o million to be exact, while the London Greenpeace members represented themselves. The British court finally sided with the Golden Arches, and two of the London Greenpeace members, Helen Steel and David Morris, had to pay $60,000 in damages, but apparently, the money was never collected. While McDonald’s wasn’t found guilty of deforestation, it was found responsible for lying about the nutrition level of their food. Basically, don’t go around attacking big corporations unless you have the time and the money to fight them, especially not if they’re a beloved and powerful chain!

3. The McAfrika

Sometimes it’s a bad product, but sometimes it’s just bad timing and tasteless marketing, which is exactly what happened in the case of the McAfrika. In an attempt to create menu items from around the world, McDonald’s came up with a pita  – made with beef, cheese, tomatoes, and salad, and inspired by African cuisine. It’s not that it tasted bad, but it was in bad taste. You see, this sandwich was sold in Norway, one of the world’s richest nations, in 2002, during the same time a massive famine was happening in Africa.  This was obviously just about the worse timing ever to release this burger. It’s easy to see why the release of this item created so much controversy. The irony of it all was just too much for people to ignore, and it was said to be “distasteful and inappropriate” and created a wave of backlash. So much so that McDonald’s agreed to let hunger-relief charities fundraise by installing donation boxes in the Norway locations that sold the unsuitable flop. So, basically, the bare minimum. Every now and then, you just have to stop and wonder what goes on inside people’s minds sometimes, because honestly, this campaign was either a pure, unfortunate coincidence or a very tasteless lack of thinking. 

2. The MacCheese’s Doppelganger

If there’s one thing that comes to mind when thinking about McDonald’s, it’s Ronald McDonald. He is easily one of the most recognized characters all over the world and an icon for the red and yellow restaurant chain. Over the years, Ronald was joined by other characters, which resulted in the creation of McDonaldland, a paradise on earth for kids. Grimace, Officer Big Mac, the Hamburglar, and Mayor McCheese were all part of the crew, but in 1985, one of those familiar faces had to be forcefully discontinued. It appeared that good old Mayor McCheese bore a striking resemblance to an already existing character,  H.R. Pufnstuf. The first McDonaldland advertising campaign came out in 1971, only 2 years after the H.R. Pufnstuf show came out. Coincidence? After a successful legal challenge for copyright infringement, McDonald’s was forced to say goodbye to its beloved mascot, even after arguing that the characters were completely different. The details argued were the differences in clothing. The jury ended up siding with the character from the popular children’s show, saying that they didn’t believe that an ordinary person, let alone a child, would be able to notice that Pufnstuf is wearing a “cummerbund” while Mayor McCheese is wearing a ” diplomat’s sash.” Basically, that minor difference wasn’t enough to justify the otherwise apparent resemblance. Shocking. So, Mayor McCheese packed up his bags and left McDonaldland for good, and the rest of the gang followed a few years later. Maybe because they all missed him so much. Or because the McDonaldland campaign got canceled. Either way, the Pufnstuf creators were awarded $1 million dollars, and Mayor McCheese was never seen again. 

1. Monopoly Shenanigans

The Monopoly scam is probably one of the most infamous scandals ever in McDonald’s long history. Masterminded by Jerome – call me “Uncle Jerry” – Jacobson, the scheme started in 1987 and lasted for a long 12 years. Jerry worked at the security company responsible for printing and distributing the games pieces. You see where this is going, right? He saw an opportunity, and he took it. He started giving the winning pieces to people he knew in exchange for a cut of their prizes. This went on for 12 whole years before the FBI finally took notice and took him down. Jerry Jacobson was caught, but not before he had already defrauded over $24 million in the process. That’s a lot of McD’s for one person. McDonald’s ended up not being blamed since they didn’t know anything about the whole scam, but they still gave away a compensation package of $10 million to 55 random customers – and after a lawsuit, they had to give away another $15 million to 15 other customers. Even though it wasn’t technically McDonald’s fault, the company’s integrity was brought into the light, and a lot of people had lost their faith and trust in their favorite fast-food destination. This just goes to prove how easy it is to make or break a company’s reputation. And in the fast food game, reputation is everything.

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