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.
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.