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UN: Health Activists Ask UNICEF to Dump McDonald's

by Jim LobeOneWorld US
August 1st, 2002

An international coalition of public-health professionals and activists has asked the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to stop "lending its good name and endorsement to McDonald's" and cancel its participation with the fast-food giant in 'World Children's Day' on November 20.

The request, which came in the form of a letter sent Wednesday to UNICEF's executive director, Carol Bellamy, charged that 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," according to the letter, which was signed by some 75 public-health and consumer advocates, including Jill Claybrook, the head of Public Citizen, several board members of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Michael Jacobsen, executive director of the Center for Science in Public Interest.

UNICEF and McDonald's announced on July 19, 'World Children's Day' to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) and UNICEF programs in a dozen countries. RMHC has awarded more than US$320 million in grants for children's health over the past two decades, including $5 million to UNICEF last year for the agency's maternal and neonatal tetanus programs in 57 countries.

McDonald's Chairman, Jack Greenberg, met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has strongly encouraged such "public-private partnerships" to support children and other global initiatives.

On November 20--the anniversary of the U.N. adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989--McDonald's 30,000 restaurants in 121 countries are supposed to organize activities and promotions designed to raise money and public support for local children's organizations, as well as RMHC and UNICEF operations.

Among examples cited by McDonald's will be the distribution in October of 20 million traditional orange "Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF" collection boxes for U.S. children who go door-to-door on Halloween. In China, the two sponsors will run the country's first-ever online concert, access to which will be given away to customers who buy a Big Mac on November 20. A portion of the sales will go to UNICEF.

But the letter, which was organized by Portland Oregon-based Commercial Alert, argues that the U.N. agency, whose main purpose is to promote children's health and well-being, should not be seen as endorsing McDonalds' operations.

"McDonald's," according to the letter, "is responsible for multi-million dollar ad campaigns that prod children to nag, whine and throw tantrums so that their parents will consent to buy them junk food."

"It is not the proper role of UNICEF to endorse or serve as enabler for corporate activities of this kind," the letter declares.

The fast-food restaurant chain, the world's largest by far, serves some 46 million people daily around the world. Its "golden arches" are one of the world's most recognized commercial logos.

Speaking about the fundraising event on Thursday, McDonald's spokesperson Lisa Howard said that the company's only objective is to help children, citing 50 years of giving back to communities and working with numerous organizations in support of families and children everywhere.

Howard also added that Commercial Alert's criticism of the unhealthiness of McDonald's food was unfounded.

"We provide a full menu of choice and variety, and serve wholesome and nutritious options--chicken, bread, potatoes, beef, salad, milk, juice and other basic foods that come from many of the same trusted suppliers that stock grocery store shelves and home pantries. Unfortunately this group is absolutely ignorant about our principles, and our long-standing commitment to the health and well-being of children," she said.

Telephone requests by OneWorld for comment by UNICEF were not returned.

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