Moral Issues At McDonald’s

Serving 60 million consumers everyday makes McDonald’s Corporation the largest fast-food chain in the world. Established as a neighborhood restaurant in 1940 by two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald, McDonald’s is now a multi-billion dollar company and one of the most recognizable brands on the planet. Established in 119 countries, McDonald’s operates 31000 restaurants worldwide employing more than 1.5 million people (McDonalds, n.d.).

McDonalds has a policy of allowing a fully prepared sandwich to sit on the rack for a maximum time period of ten minutes; and if not sold within that time, it is disposed off.  The rationale behind this policy is that if the sandwich is not disposed off, the customers would be served stale food which would eventually have an adverse effect on McDonald’s brand name and sales. If the sandwiches are offered to the employees, then they would try to create more waste in order to avail the free food. Likewise, if the sandwich is given away to the poor, then the charitable instinct of the employees might take over, and lead them to generate more waste to help the disadvantaged.

In relation to this policy, the company faces a major ethical dilemma. Where millions in the world are starving, the company is wasting heaps of perfectly edible food daily. This policy goes against utilitarian ethics, which says that a moral action is one which results in the greatest good. (John, 2005).  This policy contributes to McDonald’s customers utility by providing consistent quality and fresh food to the customers; thereby enabling McDonald’s to live up to its promise.

It also adds to McDonald’s utility by minimizing waste and thus optimizing profits. However, from the perspective of the world at large, the utility generated from giving away the food to the needy would be much higher and would result in significant reduction in the sufferings of the deprived; and thus the policy contradicts the utilitarian model of ethics.

From deontology’s perspective, McDonald’s policy raises moral concerns as well. Deontological ethics focus on the rightness and wrongness of the motive behind an action and say that ethical rules “bind you to your duty”(Waller, 2005). The motive behind the company’s policy is to add value to the company’s primary stakeholder: its shareholders and customers. The intention is not to deprive the poor of food and to add to their sufferings. From this point of view, the policy is perfectly ethical. However, deontologists also say that it is one’s “duty” to do the right thing, which makes it McDonald’s duty to give away the food to charity, which is arguably the right thing to do. Hence, McDonald’s faces a moral dilemma regarding its policy.


John, S.M. (2005). Utilitarianism. IndyPublish

McDonalds. (n.d.). McDonald’s Fact Sheets .Retrieved on March 8, 2009 from

Waller, B.N. (2005). Consider Ethics: Theory, Readings, and Contemporary Issues.Pearson Longman.

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