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McDonald’s Shareholders Swat Away Resolution Demanding Nutrition Report

Leon Kaye | Friday May 25th, 2012 | 3 Comments
mcdonalds, shareholder resolutions, shareholder proposal, child obesity, obesity, Leon Kaye, Nick Aster, Andrew Bremer, Corporate Accountability International

The Golden Arches said NO to a nutrition report demanded by a shareholder

McDonald’s shareholders yesterday overwhelmingly voted against a shareholder proposal that pushed the fast food titan to undertake a nutrition report of the company’s food products. The motion was submitted by Corporate Accountability International, a consumer advocacy group representing a shareholder concerned about obesity and other children’s health issues, on behalf of a shareholder.

Naturally McDonald’s insisted the proposal was a few fries short of a Happy Meal and advised its shareholders in the company’s most recent proxy statement to vote against the proposition. And the shareholders’ vote was definitive: 95.6 percent of all votes were a NO. Andrew Bremer, a medical professor at Vanderbilt University who spoke in favor of the proposal at yesterday’s annual meeting, made the argument that the company’s contribution to obesity was putting the company’s shareholders at risk. But the proposal only did marginally better than a similar item submitted last year.

John Harrington, a shareholder who owns 100 shares of McDonald’s stock, wrote several arguments in favor of his resolution. The logic is familiar: one in three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes; the ties between aggressive marketing and healthy eating; and the “loophole” the company found in San Francisco to work around an ordinance banning the giveaway of toys to children in fast food restaurants shows the company is determined to market to kids. Corporate Accountability International and Harrington wanted a report issued within six months that would assess the evidence of linkages between fast food and child obesity, diet related diseases and an evaluation that the impact that public concern and evolving policy would have on the company’s finances and operations.

McDonald’s was having none of it. And in fairness to the Golden Arches, the company disclosed concerns about the potential impact of regulations in the risk factors section of its last annual report submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, or 10-K:

  • The impact of new, potential or changing regulation that can affect our business plans, such as those relating to marketing and the content and safety of our food and other products, as well as the risks and costs of our labeling and other disclosure practices, particularly given varying legal requirements and practices for testing and disclosure within our industry, ordinary variations in food preparation among our own restaurants, and the need to rely on the accuracy and completeness of information from third-party suppliers;
  • The impact of nutritional, health and other scientific inquiries and conclusions, which constantly evolve and often have contradictory implications, but nonetheless drive popular opinion, litigation and regulation, including taxation, in ways that could be material to our business.

Compared to other shareholder resolutions focused on sustainability related issues, this was a tough defeat. Similar votes, for example one on Coca-Cola’s use of BPA, received a far higher percentage of “YES” votes. But this vote may already indicate a signal that McDonald’s is changing–just not fast enough for some stakeholders. The company is spending less money on Happy Meal advertising, and over the years activists have won several battles, from the elimination of polystyrene packaging to having healthier options match up against the Big Macs. The best shareholder resolution never proposed, however, was 3p’s editor Nick Aster’s suggestion that McD’s replace its beef burgers with seitan. That may be a satanic suggestion to some, but the truth is–most of us would not even know the difference.

But then McDonald’s would face anti-GMO resolutions in the coming years.

mcdonalds, shareholder resolutions, shareholder proposal, child obesity, obesity, Leon Kaye, Nick Aster, Andrew Bremer, Corporate Accountability International

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye, pictured here with Ronald McDonald in Tokyo, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. And he’s not embarrassed to admit he’s plunked himself into a McDonald’s for a coffee and free WiFi. You can follow him on Twitter; half of his tweets have been sent from a McD’s while he waited for his coffee to cool.

Photos courtesy Leon Kaye.

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  • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

    From a shareholder perspective this actually makes perfect sense.   Good intentions aside, the effect of a resolution like this really wouldn’t do *anything* to make McDonald’s food better.  The only thing it does it makes it more expensive by saddling the company with some complicated program they’d have to abide by.

    So from the perspective of running an efficient, profitable company for shareholders, the idea is really dumb.  A shareholder would never vote for it, whether they care about evolving McDonald’s practices or not.

    However, it’s nice to see that it gets people’s attention and keeps the issue on the table. 

    I reckon a resolution that was more specific and had longer term benefits rather than just costs might stand more of a chance of success… like, say, “increase vegetarian options by 10% by 2020″.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jen.boynton Jen Boynton

      The point of shareholder resolutions isn’t actually to pass them (the institutional investors that make up the majority of the voting shares are far too conservative to vote against the company ever) – it’s to pressure the company to pay attention to social and environmental issues. Shareholder pressure is a different kind of kick in the pants than complaints from Greenpeace and they all add up. 

      A successful outcome from a shareholder resolution is a behind-the-scenes meeting with the board to talk about other avenues by which these issues can be met by the company. 

      It’s just a big fat “Hey pay attention to this!” sign.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/godelnik Raz Godelnik

      This resolution is similar to resolutions asking companies to assess their carbon footprint so they can have a better ability to evaluate climate change risks and opportunities and establish/revise their climate change strategy accordingly.  Basically, it’s a matter of understanding your risks and being able to deal with them.

      In an environment where child obesity becomes a growing concern, shareholders should be interested in clarifying the connection between the company and child obesity. In this case vagueness won’t serve them too well, at least not in the long term.

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