Yum! Brands is the world’s largest restaurant company in terms of units, with approximately 38,000 restaurants in more than 110 countries and territories. It is a parent company of some well-known fast food chains like KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. But, did you know that Yum! is also a partner of the UN Fighting Hunger Worldwide Program (WFP) and is now running its annual World Hunger Relief campaign? According to WFP, Yum!’s campaign is “the world‘s largest consumer outreach effort on the issue of hunger.”
Yum!’s campaign, which according to the company, aims to raise awareness, volunteerism and funds for WFP and other hunger relief agencies, brings up some interesting questions – should we applaud such efforts? Can they offset the issues associated with the company’s core business? Should we reevaluate our perception of Yum!, or is it just another example of a lipstick on a pig?
Let’s take a look first at what exactly Yum! does with WFP. According to Yum! since the World Hunger Relief campaign was launched in 2007, more than one million of the company’s employees, franchisees and their families have volunteered more than 21 million hours to aid hunger relief efforts in communities worldwide. The effort has raised nearly $85 million for WFP and other hunger relief organizations and is helping to provide more than 350 million meals for people worldwide. Last but not least, if you’re not a regular visitor at Taco Bell or KFC and you heard about the campaign, it’s probably because of Christina Aguilera. This year the singer lends her powerful voice in a new public service announcement for Yum!’s campaign.
Yum!’s work is also a result of its five-year commitment at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2008 to make school meals a top priority in the fight to end global hunger. Over a five-year span, Yum! pledged to:
- raise and donate at least $80 million to help WFP and others provide 200 million meals for hungry school children in developing countries
- donate 20 million hours of hunger relief volunteer service in the communities in which it operates
- donate $200 million worth of its prepared food to hunger agencies in the U.S.
- use the company’s marketing clout to generate awareness of the hunger problem and convince others to become part of the solution
So the positive side is very clear – helping to provide meals for hungry children in developing countries, raising awareness to the devastating hunger problem and even donating money and food to hunger agencies in the U.S. On the negative side, we have Yum!’s fast food chains that are part of an industry that has been linked to the growing prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases among both adults and children.
For example, a study by researchers from UC Berkeley and Columbia University investigating the a link between obesity and the easy availability of fast food found that teens who attend classes within one-tenth of a mile of a fast-food outlet are more likely to be obese than peers whose campuses are located farther from fast food restaurants. “Fast food offers the most calories per price compared to other restaurants, and that’s combined with a high temptation factor for students,” said Stefano DellaVigna, one of the paper’s authors.
Although fast food restaurants are not the only ones to be blamed, it is an industry that, in the words of Eric Schlosser in his book Fast Food Nation, “has proven to be a revolutionary force in American life,” helping to “transform not only the American diet, but also our landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture.” And not for the better.
The problem here is that you need to weigh two substantial forces. This is not the case of KFC building an eco-friendly restaurant, but of children that get a meal they probably wouldn’t get otherwise because Yum! is taking action.
Still, I don’t think Yum!’s campaign should get them off the hook. It should set the bar for them. When their CEO says that “the commitment that we made at the Clinton Global Initiative underscores our passion to do whatever we can to raise awareness, volunteerism and money to help in the fight against hunger,” we should demand he show the same passion and commitment when it comes to Yum!’s core business.
Yum!’s CSR report shows they are improving, yet to me it looks like they are much more excited about helping WFP than on working to become a positive force in the food system. Yum!’s CEO can certainly learn from other companies that make some effort in this area, like McDonald’s. If Yum! will do it, then I will be the first to give them a thumbs up.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.