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03/08/02 . Patrick Butler . The Guardian . UK
Unicef in McDonald's link row
The UN's children's health and welfare charity Unicef is at the centre of a row over its endorsement of a controversial global fundraising and marketing campaign created by McDonald's, the fast food chain.
Under a public-private partnership deal, the charity stands to make millions of pounds by lending both its name and resources to McDonald's World Children's Day event, which will be rolled out in the burger firm's restaurants in 121 countries on November 20 this year.
The promotion, which aims to raise money for McDonald's charitable arm and a dozen Unicef programmes, includes a pop concert in China, which will be broadcast over the internet - access to which can only be obtained by buying a Big Mac burger. Unicef will receive a cut of the profits from each Big Mac sold.
In the US, 20m Unicef "trick or treat" charity collection boxes used by children to collect money on Halloween night will be distributed through McDonald's outlets. In Hong Kong, a joint promotion called "Love for our future with Unicef" is being planned, with the charity benefiting from the sales of specially-designed postcards available in restaurants.
Unicef claims that apart from benefiting financially, the campaign will help raise the profile of both the charity and wider child health issues. In the US, it hopes to "reach a whole new generation of children whose parents supported Unicef when they were kids".
But public health specialists across the world have criticised the charity's involvement with McDonald's, arguing that the partnership could damage the credibility of its work on child health, nutrition and education, particularly in the third world.
This week a letter sent to Unicef's executive director Carol Bellamy from more than 50 doctors, academics and activists argues that the World Children's Day partnership runs counter to the charity's role in promoting good nutrition to the world's children.
It states: "McDonald's is a global leader in the marketing of junk food that is creating soaring rates of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes, and that is disrupting traditional ways of food preparation in families and cultures. It is truly a challenge to see how this partnership with McDonald's is consistent with Unicef's claim to promote 'good nutrition' to the world's children.
"As you know, McDonald's markets precisely the high-added-fat, high-added-sugar junk food that undermines good nutrition for the world's children."
Unicef's New York office said last night said that the partnership did not mean that Unicef endorses McDonald's or its products. But a spokeswoman admitted that the charity was aware of the concern expressed by the public health community and was "watching the public response closely".
Unicef is signed up to co-promote World Children's Day in Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and the US. The UK committee of Unicef said it would not be involved with events held by the burger chain.
In a speech in May, UN secretary general Kofi Annan called for the private sector to become more involved in UN efforts to help children, arguing that "public-private partnerships have the power to help children in many ways".
Geof Rayner, chairman of the UK Public Health Alliance, said: "Unicef needs the money and McDonald's can deliver it. There's nothing wrong with corporate social responsibility in principle, but there's a question of whether the dividing line into irresponsibility has now been crossed."
Professor Tim Lang, professor of food policy at Thames Valley University and a UN consultant, told SocietyGuardian.co.uk: "It is a sad, sad day if the UN's children and health charity is reduced to taking sponsorship from a fast food company. Why should we accept that Unicef has any credibility left?"
Jeanette Longfield, coordinator of the charity Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, said: "McDonald's is the flagship for junk food, aggressively targeted at children. Does Unicef think that this is an appropriate partnership?"
McDonald's World Children's Day coincides with the anniversary of the UN's adoption of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in November 1989.
Full text: public health professionals' letter
Sent to Carol Bellamy, executive director of the United Nations' children's charity, Unicef
Saturday August 3, 2002 The Guardian
Dear Ms Bellamy:
On July 19, Unicef announced its partnership with the McDonald's Corporation to hold "McDonald's World Children's Day".
In effect, Unicef is lending its good name and endorsement to McDonald's, the world's largest fast food chain. McDonald's is a global leader in the marketing of junk food that is creating soaring rates of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes, and that is disrupting traditional ways of food preparation in families and cultures.
It is truly a challenge to see how this partnership with McDonald's is consistent with Unicef's claim to promote "good nutrition" to the world's children. As you know, McDonald's markets precisely the high-added-fat, high-added-sugar junk food that undermines good nutrition for the world's children.
McDonald's is responsible for multimillion dollar ad campaigns that prod children to nag, whine and throw tantrums so that their parents will consent to buy them junk food. The company's ad campaigns deliberately foment conflict between parents and children regarding food.
It is not the proper role of Unicef to endorse or serve as enabler for corporate activities of this kind. Do you really think people contribute to Unicef so that you can help corporate advertisers to manipulate innocent and impressionable children with sophisticated psychological techniques, cause strife in the home and promote the consumption of junk food?
Unicef's mission is to protect children from just these things. Therefore, we urge you to reconsider your partnership with the McDonald's Corporation, and cancel "McDonald's World Children's Day" immediately.
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