Corporate anti-racism is all the rage these days. We’ve exposed the hypocrisy of companies from Amazon to Airbnb that have taken to social media in recent weeks to speak out against systemic racism and express support for the Movement for Black Lives, but refuse to adopt corporate policies to back up their claims. McDonald’s is the latest company we’ve called out for joining the chorus of brands releasing hollow solidarity statements and launching a full on woke-washing marketing campaigns to profit from the Movement for Black Lives, while doing nothing to change worker policies that perpetuate systemic racism.

After the killing of George Floyd, McDonald’s produced a digital ad to honor Floyd and six other victims of police brutality. “We do not tolerate inequity, injustice, or racism,” reads the text that flashes momentarily on the screen before it ends with “Black Lives Matter.” 

A tweet sent from the ACLU account calling out McDonalds for "woke-washing"

The ad begs the question — do Black lives REALLY matter to McDonald’s when it comes to its own workers? McDonald’s actions speak louder than words. The reality is that 80 percent of McDonald’s majority Black and Brown workforce don’t have access to paid sick leave. That is dangerous under normal circumstances; during a global pandemic, it’s deadly. By failing to ensure that workers have access to paid leave, the McDonald’s solidarity statement feels more like a PR stunt than a real commitment to the cause.  

In another recent attempt to “woke-wash” its brand, last month McDonald’s used its live air time and social platforms during the BET awards to amplify Black voices — putting the spotlight on a number of Black artists, advocates, educators and more. While this tactic arguably did some good by elevating Black issues in the media, it was also a thinly veiled attempt to distract the public from the many ways McDonald’s exploits Black workers. Many Black McDonald’s workers have led protests and strikes for paid leave and basic COVID-19 protections for months. Workers have even filed lawsuits against the company, claiming the dangerous workplace conditions — including being told to use coffee filters and “puppy pads” as face masks — pose a “public nuisance” that put entire communities at risk. McDonald’s has so far failed to meet these worker demands and consistently discredits their advocacy — while paying shareholders nearly $2 billion since the pandemic began.

A tweet sent from the ACLU account calling out McDonalds for "woke-washing"

If McDonald’s wants to show it cares about Black and Brown people, it needs to begin the work to change company policies and practices that perpetuate inequality. Immediately adopting a policy that gives all workers access to paid sick days and family and medical leave is an important step in the right direction. 

Failing to give its majority Black and Brown workforce paid time off to care for themselves and their families is just the tip of the iceberg. McDonald’s has a long record of failing to protect workers from racial discrimination and harassment. 

For years, McDonald’s has ignored sexual harassment complaints from many women of color workers. Over the past 18 months, the ACLU has represented dozens of McDonald’s workers around the country, filing Equal Employment Opportunity Commision complaints and lawsuits against the company for failing to protect them from sexual assault and harassment. A lawsuit filed earlier this year by two Black executives alleges a company culture rife with systemic racial discrimination. And most recently, McDonald’s’ inability to protect its majority Black and Brown workforce has led to COVID-19 outbreaks in a number of restaurants across the country, and without access to paid leave, has left hundreds of its workers with the impossible decision of choosing between a paycheck and risking their health and the health of others. 

It’s clear that McDonald’s cares a LOT about attracting Black consumers and socially conscious consumers who care about the Movement for Black Lives. What’s also clear is that it will gladly co-opt a global movement to end white supremacy and stop police brutality to pad its bottom line. As consumers, we must use our power to call McDonald’s out and show the company that woke-washing won’t work on us. Now is the time for McDonald’s to reckon with its past, address systemic racism within its red and gold walls, and implement policies that support Black people. 

Today, July 20, marks the nationwide Strike For Black Lives, which calls for an end to white supremacy and fundamental changes to our society, economy, and workplaces. Many McDonald’s workers are planning actions to pressure the company to give all workers access to paid leave and other basic protections. Now is the time to show workers that we have their backs. McDonald’s cares about consumer reviews, which is why we’re flooding more than 300 McDonald’s restaurant Facebook review pages with messages amplifying worker demands for paid leave. McDonald’s should listen to their demands and respond with real policy changes. Anything short of that is unacceptable.

McDonald’s workers don’t need a marketing campaign telling them McDonald’s cares about Black people. They need policies that show it.  

A tweet sent from the ACLU account calling out McDonalds for "woke-washing"

Nicole Regalado, Deputy Director, Liberty Division, ACLU