The Global Geography of McDonald's

McDonald's is the largest and most frequented fast-food franchise in the world with more than 26,000 restaurants in 119 countries and an annual profit of approx. $US40 billion.

The typical McDonald's menu consists of five products: beef, chicken, potatoes, bread and milk. The suppliers and producers of these supplies are generally located close to the specific McDonald's franchises, to preserve the false image of each McDonald's restaurant being independent and self-sufficient.

McDonald's are increasingly relying on promotional toys to maintain their global market share, especially relying on toys from suppliers with the weakest unions - or, as often is the case, no unions - and the lowest wages. McDonald's claim they have a strict code on labour rights, which forbids child labour and worker exploitation. However, independent auditing firms, conducting a series of inspections of McDonald's suppliers and have proved otherwise. In Hong Kong, McDonald's is involved in the illegal employment of workers by City Toys Ltd., a subsidiary of Pleasure Tech Holdings Ltd., working under contract for Simon Marketing, a supplier of toys to McDonald's. Some of these workers are as young as 14 and work up to 16-hour days for $US3 per day or around $US0.25 an hour, in the Chinese sweatshops, supplying McDonald's with toys such as Winnie the Pooh, Snoopy and Hello Kitty. McDonald's workers are prevented from forming unions. Moreover, as new franchises open, McDonald's cause a net loss of jobs, deriving from other food-businesses which are located in close proximity to McDonald's. <> Sun Valley Poultry is the only supplier of all chicken products to McDonald's U.K. They also supply chickens to McDonald's in Europe and North Africa. According to the McDonald's PR policies released to coincide with the increasing public concern, Sun Valley Poultry provides chickens with the freedom to move, in conditions that supposedly "minimise distress" to the birds. McDonald's also state that the "maltreatment of birds results in the immediate termination of the contract", which would seem problematic, since McDonald's don't sign contracts with suppliers, but rely on "mutual trust" (McDonald's, 1995).

In reality, Sun Valley Poultry chickens are kept in battery cage-like conditions, prohibiting any access to sunshine and fresh air and confining the chickens in a tiny space. Flaws exist in the slaughtering system, so some chickens do not receive a cardiac arrest at stunning or do not receive a ventral neck cut. This is unusually cruel, as it means that many chickens are still alive during the scalding process, and show signs of brain-stem activity, clearly in breech of McDonald's policy on animal welfare. Further, extensive examinations have been performed proving flaws in the stunning and bleeding procedures of pigs, carried out by McKey Food Service, for McDonald's. Many pigs have been shown to survive "stunning" and "sticking" (use your imagination) procedures, and thus, remain conscious throughout the horrendous bleeding and scalding processes with number of "carcasses", severely twitching and kicking prior to these processes, proving that McDonald's continually falsify reports by excluding relevant and potentially damaging information, detrimental to their public image and reputation.

Many of McDonald's statements and publicly released documents have recently been proved false, in the massive libel lawsuit brought by McDonald's against two London Greenpeace activists. McDonald's credibility has been flagging recently, due to their dismal attempts at maintaining their loving image by releasing their usual spin, which is now seen as blatantly misleading. Chief Justice Bell's verdict in the 'McLibel' case was that "[McDonald's is] culpably responsible for cruel practices in the rearing and slaughter of some of the animals which have been used to produce their food".

Another essential aspect of this debate is the irresponsibility and exploitative nature of McDonald's subsidiaries and suppliers in the issue of cattle rearing and rainforest destruction. McDonald's claim that they do not and never did use beef which threatens rainforests in "Third World" nations. McDonald's also state in numerous policies and propaganda that they never have used Central or South American beef for McDonald's in the U.S. While they do admit that Central and South American beef is used in McDonald's franchises located in Central and South America.

The large areas of land needed to rear cattle for the extensive and ever-growing McDonald's network of beef producing has invariably led to the clearing of land. Clearing for cattle was responsible for three fifths of Central and South America's deforestation between 1966 and 1983. Soya farming for cattle feed has devastated the environment in Central and South America, and has disadvantaged the poor, by exporting their staple crops for animal feed. Soya and grain has been fed to cattle eventually processed into McDonald's beef patties locally and to cattle particular reared in Germany.

Cattle currently consume 10 times the amount that humans do, so that 1 calorie of beef demands 10 calories of grain. Only 21 million tons of meat and by-products are used from the 145 million tons of grain and soy fed to livestock per year, while the waste is 124 million tons per year at a value of $20 billion. It has been calculated that this sum would feed, clothe and house the world's entire population for one year.

The Amazon Basin is a vast, and ecologically vulnerable environment. McDonald's have omitted the ecological evidence showing that, in Brazil especially, the geography of cattle ranchers, supplying local McDonald's stores with beef undoubtedly effects the sustainability of the local forests. Taking into account that 100,000 beef ranches are located in the Amazon, torrential rains pour through treeless valleys, collecting sediments, and extensively eroding the land, rendering the bare, baked land useless for agriculture or re-generation.

Cattle ranching has been particularly harsh in many Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala during the 60s and 70s, when the US beef industry was growing. The US is the largest producer and consumer of beef, and most of America's beef is from parts South, meanwhile, McDonald's, continue to claim that they don't buy Central American beef. However with an extremely large proportion of US imported beef originating from Central America, it is possible - and even probable - that McDonald's have falsified reports, due to the inability of any impartial and independent judiciary being able to prove either argument as the US government does not label any imported beef with its origin. In truth, McDonald's plays an intricate role in the Central and South American beef markets, and the environmental and human ruin that it causes. For example, Brazilian beef suppliers to McDonald's Brazil and U.K., Braslo Ltd. and Vestey Ltd. have been responsible for the displacement of farmers in forest lands. McDonald's released an environmental policy regarding rainforest destruction in 1989, due to public demand, but still have not produced a consistent or coherent policy on the production or supplying of beef from ex-rainforest land.

The system of McDonald's suppliers purchasing beef from recently deforested lands renders McDonald's accountable for their actions. Due to McDonald's lack of full publication of their production locations and processes, and secrecy on issues concerning sourcing, procurement and labour policies, it is difficult to determine precisely their involvement in rainforest destruction, employment changes and urbanisation effects in countries were McDonald's restaurants are located and only campaigns such as the laudable will result in the corporations full disclosure on it's environmentally and morally unsustainable and indefensible practices.