May 25, 2018

Chicago Tribune: McDonald’s will keep using plastic straws, but is studying alternatives

By Greg Trotter for the Chicago Tribune.

For now anyway, McDonald’s is not phasing out plastic straws in its U.S. restaurants.

A shareholder proposal directing McDonald’s to re-evaluate its use of straws was overwhelmingly voted down at the global fast food chain’s annual meeting Thursday in suburban Oak Brook. Despite grabbing headlines this week, the proposal only garnered about 8 percent of shareholder votes, according to preliminary results. McDonald’s says it’s already been working to find alternatives to plastic straws.

Plastic straws are difficult to recycle and often end up in the ocean, according to groups fighting to eliminate their usage. One YouTube video of a straw being extracted from a sea turtle’s nose had more than 24 million views as of Thursday afternoon.

Eliminating plastic straws was but one of many pleas this week from activists targeting McDonald’s annual meeting, which has almost become an annual rite of spring for advocates of various causes hoping to influence the global fast-food company. On Monday morning during a downpour, Fight for $15 protestors gathered outside of McDonald’s new Chicago headquarters to demand better wages. Other groups this week called on McDonald’s to phase out the routine use of medically important antibiotics from its beef and pork supply, and end the controversial school fundraising events known as McTeacher’s Nights.

At the shareholder meeting, McDonald’s executives touted the company’s sales growth and corporate social responsibility.

“We’re committed to using our scale for good in a way that makes sense for our long-term growth strategy,” said McDonald’s Chairman Rick Hernandez.

Earlier this year, McDonald’s announced plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. And by 2025, McDonald’s will use packaging from only renewable, recycled or certified sources where no deforestation occurs, the company announced in March. The company also has made major supply chain commitments, such as using only eggs from cage-free hens.

Because of McDonald’s sheer size — about 37,000 restaurants globally — such decisions effect significant change throughout the food industry.

But many activist groups would like to see the company do more. Speaking on behalf of a shareholder proposal Thursday to further empower shareholders’ ability to call special meetings, Alexa Kaczmarzski, of the nonprofit group Corporate Accountability, noted the Los Angeles Unified School District and the California Federation of Teachers have called on the company to end McTeacher’s Nights, in which teachers serve McDonald’s food to raise money for their schools.

That proposal also failed, though it received more than 41 percent of shareholder votes.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson made an appearance at the annual meeting, urging McDonald’s to do more to improve wages and address sexual harassment claims. Earlier this week, 10 women who have worked at McDonald’s in nine cities filed sexual harassment complaints against franchise owners and McDonald’s.

Echoing the company’s previous statement on the matter, CEO Steve Easterbook said the company takes such allegations very seriously and that he’s confident franchisees do too.

On the business side, Easterbook highlighted at the meeting how the company’s recent initiatives — such as launching a new value menu, offering delivery and modernizing restaurants — are improving sales, restaurant traffic and the overall customer experience.

“We are becoming a better McDonald’s, but we are not content,” Easterbrook said. “We have great ambition and continue striving for more.”

The plastic straw issue could continue to gain momentum in years to come as more cities look to reduce plastic pollution. On Wednesday, a New York City councilman introduced a bill to ban plastic straws. Seattle, Miami Beach, Fla., and Malibu, Calif., already have bans in place. Last month, the Chicago White Sox became the first major league baseball team to ban plastic straws.

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