Fast-food giant McDonald’s has sought to address a growing chorus of critics on issues including worker pay and marketing to children at its annual meeting.
As hundreds of protesters chanted for higher wages outside the building in Illinois, CEO Don Thompson told the audience inside that the company has a heritage of providing job opportunities that lead to “real careers”.
He added: “We believe we pay fair and competitive wages.”
A day earlier, McDonald’s closed one of its buildings in Oak Brook, Illinois, where protesters had planned to demonstrate over the wages paid to its workers. Organisers then targeted another site at the company’s headquarters in suburban Chicago, and police say 138 were arrested for refusing to leave the property.
As in years past, McDonald’s marketing tactics to children was brought up by speakers. One mother from Kentucky, Casey Hinds, said the company’s clown Ronald McDonald was “the Joe Camel of fast food”, in reference to the cigarette company’s mascot.
Mr Thompson insisted McDonald’s was not predatory, and that Ronald McDonald was about letting children have fun. He noted that his children ate the chain’s food and turned out “quite healthy”, with his daughter even becoming an athlete.
“We are people. We do have values at McDonald’s. We are parents,” he said.
Although many fast-food chains engage in similar tactics, McDonald’s is a frequent target for critics because of its high profile. The criticism is becoming a more pressing issue for the world’s biggest hamburger chain at a time when it is fighting to boost weak sales amid heightened competition.
Part of the problem is that people are shifting toward foods they feel are fresher or healthier, which has prompted McDonald’s executives in recent months to repeatedly underscore the quality of the chain’s ingredients.
Mr Thompson struck on those notes again, saying the company cracks eggs and uses fresh vegetables to make its food.
Still, the issue of worker pay in particular has put McDonald’s in an uncomfortable spotlight since late 2012, when protests for a higher wage began in New York City. Demonstrators were out again this morning before the meeting, chanting, “I want, I want, I want my $15”.