As McDonald's comes under increased scrutiny for both its treatment of workers and its questionable corporate citizenship around the world, workers from five continents, elected officials, and international labor leaders are gathered in Brasília this week to testify before the Brazilian Federal Senate on how the corporation is "driving a global race to the bottom."
The hearing also marks "a major escalation of the global effort to hold McDonald’s accountable for its mistreatment of workers and bad corporate citizenship," according to a press statement from Fight for $15, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)-backed protest movement advocating for higher wages and union protections for fast food workers.
In particular, the testimony will address how the corporation's "low-road" business model—which involves alleged tax dodging, unfair competition, and violations of franchise laws—is harming workers, consumers, governments, suppliers, and competitors.
The location of the hearing, which organizers are calling "unprecedented," is strategic.
In Brazil, a coalition of trade unions has filed two lawsuits accusing the company of widespread and systematic labor and health and safety violations. And earlier this week, Brazil's General Workers' Union filed a complaint asking the country's Public Prosecution Service to launch a wide-ranging civil investigation into the burger giant's alleged illegal business practices in the country.
As Fight for $15 points out, Thursday's hearing places the Golden Arches "under the microscope in one of its most important markets overseas."
Meanwhile, the SEIU is entering a new international phase of its campaign, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
"The union-led effort to raise wages and organize workers at fast-food chains in the United States is expanding its focus beyond organized protests at home — its key point of leverage for almost three years — to highlighting McDonald’s actions abroad in hopes that foreign regulators will bring further pressure to bear on the company," wrote Times reporter Noam Scheiber.
The efforts are intended to build on the success of the anti-McDonald’s campaign in raising wages for fast-food workers in the United States, particularly in New York State.
But it is also a tacit acknowledgment that the campaign’s second major goal, a union for workers at McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants, remains elusive. The activists plan to turn their attention to McDonald’s in the overseas markets where its operations have been more lucrative recently as a way of drawing the company to the bargaining table in this country.
On Tuesday, in advance of the hearing, more than 300 McDonald's employees staged a peaceful, hour-long demonstration in Sao Paulo to demand better working conditions and higher pay.
Watch a livestream of the hearing here.