Is McDonald’s Ethical? (All You Need To Know)

McDonald’s is one of the most influential, powerful, profitable, and recognizable companies in the entire world, and with that comes great responsibility.

With its immense impact on our planet and lives, you might wonder, is McDonald’s ethical? Does it use its influence for good? I’ve researched the matter, and here’s what you need to know!

Is McDonald’s Ethical In [currentyear]?

Despite its public claims of commitment to high ethical standards in both its food and social interactivity, most don’t consider McDonald’s to be an ethical company as of [currentyear]. This is due to questionable sourcing of its food products, misleading marketing, and advertising, and complaints of workforce exploitation, among other reasons.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty and examine why McDonald’s is considered a bad company by many, how McDonald’s treats its employees, how much pollution the fast-food chain causes, and so much more!

Why Is McDonald’s Considered An Unethical Company?

Those Golden Arches bring a smile to many people’s faces, but unfortunately, they’re also symbolic of the rampant ethical violations McDonald’s has faced down over the years.

Founded in 1940 by the McDonald brothers of San Bernardino, California, Ray Kroc famously purchased the chain from them in 1953 and changed the course of history.

Since then, McDonald’s has become an international conglomerate, the world’s largest fast-food chain, and second-largest private employer.

When operations become this large, ethical considerations may start to slip. So, let’s look at some of the major ones.

Environmentalism And Sustainability

While McDonald’s strives for environmental and sustainable best practices, there’s no denying that the company has a massive impact on the health of our planet – and not in a good way.

Knowing this, the fast-food chain seemingly updates its commitment to sustainable food sourcing regularly.

But the sheer quantity of food, be it beef, chicken, fish, or bread, that McDonald’s requires to operate and feed the hungry masses is a major environmental concern.


McDonald’s has worked hard to shed its “bad-for-you fast-food” image, especially with healthier-seeming fast-casual concepts like Panera eating into its target audience.

In 2013, McDonald’s announced a revamp of its menu, with healthier options for kids, like fruits and veggies, marketed to make them “fun.”

To make their food healthier, the company also managed to “cut salt, fat and sugar content in its burgers…”.

But “healthier” doesn’t always mean healthy.

So, even while its website promotes its “more balanced Happy Meal” and disclosure on menus of nutritional information, McDonald’s should be a rare treat, not a diet lifestyle.

For example, a regular cheeseburger might seem reasonable at 250 calories, 10 grams of fat, and even dietary fiber and potassium. However, the whole thing is still highly processed food.

Therefore, we shouldn’t trick ourselves into thinking McDonald’s sells healthy food, and the company shouldn’t be portraying itself as such, either.

Workforce Complaints

Workforce Complaints McDOnald's

McDonald’s has faced criticism for its treatment of employees, both in stores and at the corporate level.

Recently, McDonald’s workers in ten US cities staged a walk-out in response to the corporation’s handling of the alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl.

According to, this is the fifth time McDonald’s employees have walked out due to mishandling of on-the-job crimes such as these.

Also, the largest fast-food chain in the world has a long history of criticism for its low wages and has been part of the focus of the Fight for 15 campaign (a standard $15 minimum wage).

That said, one employee made only $11 an hour, despite being part of the management team of his store.

McDonald’s, for its part, is getting on board with higher starting and ongoing wages.

Even though the wages may be higher, McDonald’s can afford it. For example, despite employing well over a million people, the company generated .21 billion in revenue in 2020.

Is McDonald’s Socially Responsible?

The world is diverse, and more and more people are calling for companies to reflect that, McDonald’s among them.

In response, McDonald’s announced in February 2021 that it was actively diversifying its leadership positions.

That said, McDonald’s hopes that by 2035, at least 35 percent of its upper-management and leadership roles will be filled by minority and underrepresented groups, including women and people of color.

However, this announcement came after McDonald’s faced a news-making lawsuit by two Black executives for racial disparity and treatment.

Does McDonald’s Treat Its Employees Well?

While anecdotally, employees have reported that McDonald’s is a fair company to work for, the chain’s overall record isn’t so good.

After all, the word “McJob” – indicating a low-paying, laborious position – wasn’t coined with a nod toward McDonald’s for nothing.

On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic made the shabby treatment of many fast-food employees, not just at McDonald’s, all the starker.

That said, there are several articles detailing the long hours, low wages, and unsafe working environments that McDonald’s employees faced.

For example, an article from also highlighted McDonald’s employees’ unequal access to paid sick leave.

How Much Pollution Does McDonald’s Cause?

When beef is the most harmful food – not just meat, but food – on the planet, McDonald’s burgers pose a huge problem.

And not only that, but the company is responsible for 1.5 million tons of trash, much of which consists of plastic that won’t (or can’t) get recycled.

Further, with 53.7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, McDonald’s generates more than the entire country of Norway.

Does McDonald’s Have Sweatshops?

Back in 2000, several news outlets reported that McDonald’s plastic toys were made using exploited child labor in Hong Kong sweatshops.

After that, McDonald’s responded by “warning” the partner company and launching its own investigation.

That said, it’s unlikely that McDonald’s would continue this association today, as it surely would have been reported on recently.

But, it does illustrate how difficult it is for a company of McDonald’s’ size to manage major ethical, and in this case, human rights violations happening right under its nose.

To learn more about McDonald’s, you can also see our posts on McDonald’s statistics, McDonald’s competitors, what oil McDonald’s uses, why McDonald’s drive-thru is so slow, and the biggest McDonald’s in the world.


McDonald’s is undoubtedly a successful fast-food chain, but the larger it gets, the harder it is to meet the public’s expectation for ethical best practices with its operations.

As you can see, the fast-food chain has a lot of work to do to meet its ethical goals, but one thing is for sure: we have to keep applying pressure and challenging it to do better.

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Marques Thomas

Marques Thomas graduated with a MBA in 2011. Since then, Marques has worked in the retail and consumer service industry as a manager, advisor, and marketer. Marques is also the head writer and founder of

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