McDonald’s deny claims their Travis Scott collaboration was to mask racial discrimination lawsuits

The number of Black employees in upper-level positions at McDonald's dropped from 42 in 2014 to just seven by last year


Words by: Billy Ward

McDonald’s has denied claims that collaborations with Travis Scott, and more recently J Balvin, are an attempt to divert public attention away from two racial discrimination lawsuits being filed against the company.

In September, the fast food chain launched a month-long partnership with Travis Scott, where US restaurants sold a meal designed by the rapper, as well as an apparel line. According to Complete Music Update, Chief Marketing Officer Morgan Flatley said the firm had initially sought after the partnership because people under the age of 34 are “becoming more and more challenging for brands to reach,” with Scott’s youthful following providing a lucrative market to tap into.

After McDonald’s launched another collaboration with Latin star J Balvin at the start of this month, Vice published an article suggesting that these deals were not just a blatant ploy to draw in more customers of colour, however, were designed to divert attention away from claims of corporate racism against the company.

The first lawsuit, filed by two former McDonald’s executives, claims the company “conducted a ruthless purge” of its Black leaders and brought about a “hostile and abusive work environment” for Black executives and franchise owners. It’s noted that under the leadership of former CEO Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s had intentionally reduced the number of black people in leadership roles, while forcing out black franchises.

According to the lawsuit, the number of Black employees in upper-level positions at McDonald’s dropped from 42 in 2014 to just seven last year.

The second suit against the brand was filed by a group of 52 Black franchise owners who claim McDonald’s subjected them to “systematic and covert racial discrimination” over the span of decades. They claim the company pushed them into opening restaurants in economically depressed areas with high crime, where there was frequent employee turnover rate and lower sales than in other locations. It’s suggested that they were deliberately set up to fail so they would leave the franchise.

Senior lecturer in American history at the University of Sydney, Chin Jou, told Vice: “McDonald’s should be in the doghouse when it comes to African Americans right now, this Travis Scott juggernaut has been so successful at obfuscating other McDonald’s-related news items”.

McDonald’s have denied the allegations, responding to Vice with a statement that reads: “Any claim that McDonald’s collaboration with Travis Scott was launched in response to recent litigation is completely false. We teamed up with Travis—and our newest celebrity partner, J Balvin—because of their love for the McDonald’s brand, their widespread appeal and their loyal following among our younger customers and our crew.

“In regards to the litigation—these allegations fly in the face of everything we stand for as an organization and as a partner to communities and small business owners around the world. Not only do we categorically deny the allegations, but we are confident that the facts will show how committed we are to the diversity and equal opportunity of the McDonald’s System, including across our franchisees, suppliers and employees.”

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