McDonald’s has decided it will serve chicken sourced within the United Kingdom after all during this summer’s Olympics in London. The decision is a huge reversal two weeks after the Golden Arches said it would source most of the chicken served at its four Olympic venue restaurants from Brazil. The move angered some members of the London Assembly as well as advocates who charged that McDonald’s had backed off of its sustainable food goals. Past Olympian Sebastian Coe, chair of the London Olympic and Paralympic Organising Committee (LOCOG), was subjected to harsh questioning and heckling after McDonald’s had backed off its original promises.
So what changed McDonald’s mind and stay committed to the London 2012 Olympics’ Food Vision?
The UK agricultural organization National Farmers Union was among the most angry critics of McDonald’s decision to backpedal on its local sourcing initiatives. One of its executives, Lee Woodger, met with McDonald’s leaders shortly after the announcement earlier this month. He reminded the fast food chain that the company had two years to find local suppliers for everything from chicken to lettuce. Meanwhile local animal rights organizations pointed out that other restaurant companies had worked harder to ensure food served during the summer Olympics were made from British ingredients.
While local officials welcomed McDonald’s change of heart, many insisted that McDonald’s do more to adhere to the UK’s Red Tractor standards, the British guidelines that promote food safety, environmental stewardship and animal welfare.
Not everyone is satisfied with the news. Viva, an animal welfare non-profit, stated that chickens raised in the UK live their lives in individual spaces the size of an A4 sheet of paper. And Woodger reminded The Telegraph that McDonald’s beef will come from Ireland.
The lesson here for companies, including McDonald’s, is that backtracking from any promise related to sustainability and corporate social responsibility, especially before a high profile event like the Olympics, is done at their peril. Olympic organizers are already dealing with headaches like growing anger at Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the Games. With critics watching every move, the best plan for a company during a time like this is not keep plans and promises unchanged.
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