On 4 January, McDonald’s Chief Executive Chris Kempczinski stated in a letter published on his LinkedIn account that the fast food chain is recording a presumably negative “business impact” due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in the Middle East. Actions taken by particular branches had led to an ongoing McDonald’s boycott.
In his letter, Kempczinski denounced any support or connection to either of the conflict parties engaged in the war. Furthermore, the CEO mentioned that there had been a noticeable downward trajectory in sales revenue for restaurants within the region:
“I also recognise that several markets in the Middle East and some outside the region are experiencing a meaningful business impact due to the war and associated misinformation that is affecting brands like McDonald’s,” Kempczinski stated.
The letter continued: “This is disheartening and ill-founded. In every country where we operate, including in Muslim countries, McDonald’s is proudly represented by local owner-operators who work tirelessly to serve and support their communities while employing thousands of their fellow citizens. That local community connection is the genius of the McDonald’s System.”
The CEO also expressed his remorse and condemnation for the violence that has claimed the lives of over 1,200 Israelis and around 24,000 Palestinians.
“Importantly, we continued to stand in solidarity with communities around the world, living our purpose and values to the fullest through difficult times. Our hearts remain with the communities and families impacted by the war in the Middle East. We abhor violence of any kind and firmly stand against hate speech, and we will always proudly open our doors to everyone. And whether the earthquake in Japan or the tragedies that struck Morocco and Hawaii last year, our System is always there to support,” the letter concluded.
As is to be expected, Kempczinski’s response led to more criticism than support for the brand.
McDonald’s started to face backlash after its Israeli arm announced that it was giving away free food to Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers in November 2023. In response to the chain’s decision, several other McDonald’s franchises, primarily in Muslim countries in the Middle East, expressed opposition to the stance.
It should be noted that the McDonald’s franchise model allows each location to be owned and operated independently from the brand, as Kempczinski noted in his statement. Consequently, it has been noted that boycotts and attacks on restaurants do more harm to the local community than the larger corporation. Of the company’s more than 40,000 stores globally, only 5 per cent are located in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, McDonald’s Malaysia sued the Malaysia Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) group, seeking $1.3 million (roughly £1 million) in damages and claiming “false and defamatory statements” had negatively impacted its business, according to Reuters.
BDS is a pro-Palestinian movement that aims to protest Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians by applying economic pressure and boycotting companies and groups associated with the state. McDonald’s has been on the group’s list for a few months now.
“McDonald’s (US), Burger King (US), Papa John’s (US), Pizza Hut (US), WIX (Israel), etc. are now being targeted in some countries by grassroots organic boycott campaigns, not initiated by the BDS movement. BDS supports these boycott campaigns because these companies, or their branches or franchisees in Israel, have openly supported apartheid Israel and/or provided generous in-kind donations to the Israeli military amid the current genocide,” BDS stated on its website.
In response to the lawsuit, BDS Malaysia stated that it “categorically denies” defaming the fast food company and would leave the matter to the court.
Malaysia, a majority-Muslim country, has been a vocal supporter of Palestinians throughout the war and some Western fast food brands in the country, as in some other Muslim nations, have been targeted by boycott campaigns over Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
British members of the BDS movement have also subjected the UK arm to boycotts with “boycott Mcdonald’s” trending for several days now.
The BDS case against McDonald’s was revived after the franchise’s United Kingdom unit denied its support for “any governments involved in the Middle East crisis” in a post on X, formally Twitter.
The BDS movement has seen significant growth in recent months, as the criticism over Israel’s warfare in Gaza mounted. Several Western brands have also been facing the heat over the war, including prominent names such as Starbucks, Puma, and Hewlett Packard due to their “support for Israel.”