Stu­dent pro­tester takes on McDon­ald’s and wins

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION&ANALYSIS - Dei­dre Porthen

SOUTH Africans have been known to be an ac­tivist bunch – in re­cent times there have been a num­ber of high pro­file cam­paigns, of­ten with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess. These in­clude the #FeesMustFall protests against high tu­ition fees on the coun­try’s cam­puses, protests against toll roads and on­go­ing ser­vice de­liv­ery demon­stra­tions.

But pro­test­ers – even suc­cess­ful ones – could learn a thing or two from a small, un­der-re­ported, but highly ef­fec­tive cam­paign against a pow­er­ful multi­na­tional fast food chain. Yolanda Güse, a Master’s stu­dent at the Cape Penin­sula Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, lob­bied sup­port against the burger and fast food chain McDon­ald’s South Africa. And won.

It started with an­i­mal pro­tec­tion group Beauty with­out Cru­elty South Africa. It in­formed its mem­bers through monthly news­let­ters about McDon­ald’s cru­elty in us­ing bat­tery caged chick­ens to pro­duce the eggs used in their Break­fast McMuf­fin meals.

A bat­tery cage is a wire box, the size of an A4 piece of pa­per. A chicken spends her en­tire life in this cage pro­duc­ing eggs. The an­i­mals suf­fer from stress as well as phys­i­cal harm, in­clud­ing bone weak­ness and break­age, feather loss and dis­eases.

Beauty with­out Cru­elty SA ex­pressed its con­cern that while McDon­ald’s in both the US and Canada agreed to phase out the prac­tice, McDon­ald’s South Africa hadn’t fol­lowed suit. In a state­ment the lo­cal af­fil­i­ate re­sponded: “We take note of the moves made by our USA and Canadian coun­ter­parts, and though we are ex­plor­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of ex­pand­ing McDon­ald’s cage-free pol­icy to South Africa, we can­not at this stage make a sim­i­lar com­mit­ment as the one made by McDon­ald’s USA and McDon­ald’s Canada.”

The cam­paign

As a mem­ber of Beauty with­out Cru­elty SA, Güse took up the fight against McDon­ald’s. In her pe­ti­tion mo­ti­va­tion she high­lighted a state­ment from the South Africa chief ex­ec­u­tive, Greg Solomon, and the cor­po­rate af­fairs di­rec­tor, Sech­aba Mot­sielo, which stated: “We ab­so­lutely do not con­done the cruel treat­ment of an­i­mals by our sup­pli­ers.” Yet they con­tin­ued to use bat­tery eggs. Güse told me in an in­ter­view that her love for chick­ens and hav­ing them as pets height­ened her de­sire to pur­sue this cause.

“My chick­ens are smart and quite en­gag­ing. They also en­joy roam­ing out­doors in the sun, so the idea of hav­ing them stuffed in a small wired cage and en­dur­ing the harsh­ness that ac­com­pa­nies such a life is un­bear­able,” she said.

With the sup­port of Beauty with­out Cru­elty SA, Güse at­tracted the back­ing of other an­i­mal pro­tec­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions. These in­cluded the United Front 4 An­i­mals, An­i­mal Voice (the of­fi­cial South African rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Com­pas­sion in World Farm­ing) and South African Faith Com­mu­ni­ties’ En­vi­ron­ment In­sti­tute, as well as in­di­vid­u­als.

Greater Than, a Cape Town based pub­lic re­la­tions agency, took on the cam­paign pro bono and a num­ber of South African celebri­ties pub­li­cised their sup­port in the me­dia. More than 18 000 peo­ple signed the cam­paign’s pe­ti­tion.

Güse was in­ter­viewed on var­i­ous me­dia plat­forms, in­clud­ing tele­vi­sion and ra­dio talk shows. She also ac­tively shared her views on so­cial me­dia. It got the pub­lic in­ter­ested. Her pas­sion and per­se­ver­ance fi­nally paid off. On Novem­ber 14 last year Güse and her team re­ceived news that McDon­ald’s SA had agreed to stop the har­vest­ing of caged eggs and com­mit­ted it­self, over time, to us­ing 100 per­cent caged-free eggs. It will start phas­ing in caged-free eggs at all its restau­rants this year and has un­der­taken to com­plete the process by 2025. This is be­cause the pol­icy will mean a com­plete re­struc­tur­ing of the current egg-farm­ing in­dus­try.

Job cre­ation

This is more than just a vic­tory for Güse. Not only are cage-free eggs a health­ier op­tion, but jobs will be cre­ated. Farm­ers will now need to adapt their cages and farms to the new re­quire­ments of cage-free eggs.

In a For­tune ar­ti­cle af­ter the McDon­ald’s US de­ci­sion to go cage free, US poul­try farmer Greg Her­bruck said tran­si­tion­ing to cage-free egg pro­duc­tion meant a lot more staff would be re­quired to en­sure that birds were so­cially placed as hens tended to bully each other. There’s also a peck­ing or­der of dom­i­na­tion which has an im­pact on the pro­duc­tion of eggs. This means that hens re­quire daily checks and need to be trained to lay their eggs in al­lo­cated slots.

All of this sug­gests that the current sta­tus quo in egg farm­ing will change. Farm­ers will be ex­pected to train staff to en­sure a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion, lead­ing to new skills and job cre­ation. Why was the cam­paign so suc­cess­ful? Some key fac­tors guar­an­teed its suc­cess. With re­fin­ing and adapt­ing, they can work for var­i­ous ac­tivist ac­tiv­i­ties:

Ef­fec­tive re­search was done to en­sure that suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence and cred­i­bil­ity of the cam­paign was es­tab­lished and com­mu­ni­cated. A clear and de­fin­able ob­jec­tive was set. The com­mon pur­pose of the cam­paign was com­mu­ni­cated in all mes­sages.

The cam­paign ac­tiv­i­ties were de­signed to share and re­peat the mes­sages.

A spokesper­son was se­lected and rep­re­sented the cam­paign.

Con­tact was made with the in­flu­en­tial lead­ers of the or­gan­i­sa­tion to en­sure that the cam­paign mes­sage was re­ceived.

Re­la­tion­ships were built with the me­dia and other rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers.

Pub­lic and celebrity sup­port was ral­lied through var­i­ous me­dia plat­forms.

Those sup­port­ing the cam­paign were given con­tin­u­ous feed­back.

Ef­fec­tive sup­port was gar­nered, lead­ers were in­flu­enced and the cam­paign had an im­pact on the vi­a­bil­ity of the brand. Dei­dre Porthen is the pub­lic re­la­tions se­nior lec­turer and pro­gramme co-or­di­na­tor in the Me­dia De­part­ment, Cape Penin­sula Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy. This ar­ti­cle was orig­i­nally

pub­lished in The Con­ver­sa­tion. Go to: http:// the­con­ver­sa­tion.com/

FILE PHOTO: CHRIS COLLINGRIDGE

The McDon­ald’s in Sil­ver­wa­ter Cross­ing in Pre­to­ria. Af­ter a suc­cess­ful cam­paign, McDon­ald’s SA says it will phase out bat­tery farmed chicken eggs.

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