Is Ronald McDonald Socially Responsible?
A recent open letter to Jim Skinner, CEO of McDonalds, is suggesting that the use of Ronald McDonald in marketing for the fast food chain is socially irresponsible and contributing to the child obesity problem in North America.
Corporate Accountability International writes, 'Even when parents resist the “nag effect” cultivated by McDonald’s to access the $40 – 50 billion in annual purchases that children under 12 control, advertising creates brand loyalties that persist into adulthood.'
It is difficult to argue the fact that unhealthy food contributes to unhealthy people, but the real debate in this case is that of corporate social responsibility. In a free market economy, is it more important to allow business to act in their own best interests or should there be intervention for the good of the population?
Obviously a certain level of intervention is required and expected in order to ensure that goods and services are safe for consumption. But how do you interpret the "safety" of something that is not "good for you"? At some point irresponsible consumption will make almost anything unsafe.
As adults we take the onus of responsible consumption on ourselves and as parents we assume it on behalf of our children. McDonald's cannot be blamed for making something that we enjoy, even if it is bad for us (but still safe). We need to teach our children to act responsibly and take care of themselves, just as we teach them to get dressed and speak nicely to people. It makes sense that we also need to teach our children how to interpret marketing and adverting. We are inundated with it every day and so being able to cope with it effectively is an important life skill.
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Whether or not the product is perceived as potentially harmful to children, any message that captures their attention needs to be understood by parents so that they can help the children to interpret it. Just because children like Ronald McDonald and want to go to the restaurant does not mean that the children need to become fat and unhealthy. I tell my children all the time that McDonald's food is not very healthy and we save it for special treats. My message alongside that which comes from McDonald's will help my children understand how to think critically about the world around them and grow up to be able to make good choices.