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McDonald's under supervision from human rights watchdog

McDonald’s has signed a binding agreement with Britain’s human rights watchdog to tackle inadequate handling of sexual harassment complaints made by its UK staff.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced it had entered into a monitored action plan with the fast-food chain, known as a Section 23 agreement.

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Under the agreement, McDonald's has pledged to communicate a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, conduct an anonymous survey on staff safety with employees and improve managers’ responses to complaints.

Chair of the EHRC, Kishwer Falkner, told HR magazine that McDonald's had accepted its responsibility to staff, and would be carrying out its action plan under the EHRC’s supervision.

She said: “We’re going to work with them on this action plan. We’ll be monitoring their progress towards a safe, respectful working environment.

“Should we find over a period of time that they are not achieving the ends that they have agreed to achieve with us, then we’ll have to look at taking further enforcement action.”

In May 2022, the EHRC opened an official investigation into holiday park operator Pontins over its failure to eradicate racist behaviour towards the traveller community among its staff.

Pontins had previously signed a Section 23 agreement with the EHRC to resolve the behaviour, after a whistleblower raised the issue with the enforcement body.

Falkner added: “We are very pleased to say that McDonald's has signalled its intent to make its workplaces safe for its workers, and that the improvements they are going to put into place will set an example for others to follow in the hospitality industry and more widely.”

“We work with employers of all sizes, whether they’re large or small. The law is the law of the land: size is not a deterrent for us.”

Allegations of McDonald’s failing its employees through its handling of sexual harassment complaints first surfaced in 2019, when the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) wrote to The Independent and the EHRC.

The BFAWU said yesterday that it welcomed the EHRC’s intervention, but urged caution over premature celebration.

Sarah Woolley, general secretary of the union, said: “Sexual harassment is caused by the very structures within McDonald’s.

“This is not a few bad apples; this is caused by a system of zero-hours contracts, when crew members must depend on the good will of managers to be allocated hours, when low pay is endemic and working women are expected to live pay cheque to pay cheque. [...]

“I’m afraid sexual harassment will continue to be an issue at McDonald’s.”

Alistair Macrow, CEO of McDonald’s UKI, said in a statement that the safety and wellbeing of employees was the firm’s top priority.

He said: “As one of the UK’s leading employers, the safety and wellbeing of our people is our absolute priority. It is hugely important to me that everyone in our organisation feels safe, respected and included at all times – this is core to the values of our business.

“We already have a strong track record in this area and I now welcome the opportunity to work with the EHRC to further strengthen this. 

“We will partner with the EHRC to bolster our best practice training and reporting approaches across our business to ensure that our values are understood, lived and acted upon across our organisation. Harassment and abuse have no place in our society or at McDonald’s.”