Everyone currently alive in the Western world has fond memories of begging for a Happy Meal and collecting weird promotional dishware, but that’s because we were stupid babies who hadn’t yet eaten the bagged apple slices from the tree of knowledge. From abuse of employees to animals to just plain common sense, McDonald’s wields its destructive power as gleefully as children in an unsanitary PlayPlace ball pit.

They Gave Advice on Impoverished Living


(Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash)

In fact, so many McDonald’s workers struggle to survive on the wages they do get that McDonald’s came under fire in 2013 for “resources” on its employee website that were really more instructions on how to live poor by people who have clearly never done it, such as suggestions to “eat smaller bites of food” to feel fuller on less and “quit complaining” to reduce stress and a “sample budget” that assumed employees worked 70 hours a week and paid $600 in rent.

They Told Employees to Treat Burn Injuries With Condiments

In 2015, a group of McDonald’s workers across the country got together to file two dozen complaints with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, alleging that management puts so much pressure on their skeleton crews that they’re at real risk for becoming actual skeletons. They reported rampants kitchen accidents and injuries and insufficient first aid supplies, leading management to recommend treating burns with mustard or mayonnaise. 

They Ran the Original Owners Out of Business

San Bernardino McDonald's

(Cogart Strangehill/Wikimedia Commons)

You probably know Ray Kroc as the “founder” of McDonald’s, but the franchise was actually created by a pair of Irish immigrant siblings who rose from poverty to become greasy success stories. They were the ones who pioneered the concept of a quick-service restaurant and even the golden arches; Kroc simply bought them out. He got the rights to the name and every other location, but he was mad that the brothers insisted on keeping their flagship restaurant, renamed The Big M, so he opened a new McDonald’s a block away and bragged that he “ran ‘em out of business.”

The McLibel Case

Money and gavel

(Sasun Bughdaryan/Unsplash)

In the ‘90s, McDonald’s launched a libel case against a handful of no-name U.K. activists who distributed pamphlets about the company’s harmful practices that ended up dragging on until it became the longest trial in English history. It was a P.R. disaster for McDonald’s, who was seen as picking on the little guys, and the legal proceedings (in which the activists were forced to defend themselves on a shoestring budget) revealed that many of their claims were actually true.

Spiking Chickens

The history of animal abuse on farms McDonald’s uses to source their products goes back a long way, but it got particularly horrifying in 2015, when video evidence showed farm workers beating chickens to death with spiked clubs, among a litany of atrocities that would ruin your whole day, to make McNuggets. McDonald’s shortly dropped the supplier, and it’s made noises about transitioning to more humane practices like cage-free egg farming, but it turns out the new system has a higher aviary death rate.

Gestation Crates??


(Christopher Carson/Unsplash)

It’s not just the nuggs and eggs. In 2012, McDonald’s announced that it was encouraging pork suppliers to stop using “gestation crates” that limit the movement of pregnant pigs and cause all kinds of health problems, which is kind of like announcing that you’re going to stop farting in your coworkers’ coffee. The revelation is so much more disturbing than the promise is reassuring.

They Love Lying About Their Fries

McDonald's fries

(Brett Jordan/Unsplash)

Nobody thinks McDonald’s fries are a pure and natural product, which is why it was so weird when McDonald’s ran ads in the U.K. in the early 2000s showing a sliced potato in a cardboard sleeve with the headline “The story of our fries (end of story)” and the claim that “We peel them, slice them, fry them and that’s it.” When communications authorities confirmed that there are, in fact, several other steps and ingredients involved, McDonald’s was forced to pull the ads, presumably commenting, “We don’t know what we expected.”

They Stiff Black Franchise Owners

With companies like McDonald’s that operate on a franchise system, it’s hard to blame the corporate daddy for racist behavior on the part of its management babies (which definitely exists), but in 2021, McDonald’s settled a lawsuit filed by a group of black franchise owners who claimed the company stuck them with undesirable locations after providing “misleading information” on their profitability. At McDonald’s, even the higher ups can’t escape racist bullshit.

They Favor the Bottom Line At All Costs


(Alex Knight/Unsplash)

In 2016, a former McDonald’s CEO called the fight to raise minimum wage “nonsense,” remarking that "It's cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who's inefficient making $15 an hour bagging french fries.” The comment was not only Disney villain–level callous, it speaks to an ongoing willingness on behalf of McDonald’s to favor cost-cutting measures at the expense of employee and even customer satisfaction. The truth is that customers receive better service from employees who aren’t so depressed that they’re just waiting to go home and stare at the ceiling for 12 hours, so the next time your order gets screwed up, remember that McDonald’s prefers it that way.

Top image: William Enrico Jr Quijano/Unsplash

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