Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has been widely condemned by the international community. Besides strongly denouncing the nation’s actions, recent U.N. resolutions hit Vladimir Putin’s government with economic sanctions as well. The Kremlin responded to this punishment by banning the importation of food from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Norway and the European Union. Shortly after news of the ban broke, Russia also announced that it was closing down four McDonald’s locations in Moscow for “sanitary violations.”
For outsiders, the link between these two events is obvious. After all, the food ban is intended to distance Russia’s relationship with the West, and for many years there was no bigger symbol of Western influence than Moscow’s McDonald’s. The first location opened in Pushkin Square in 1990, just months before the Soviet Union’s official collapse. Curious Russians waited in line for hours on end to get their first taste of a Big Mac. “We stood under the melting sun for around eight hours,” said Mitya Kushelevich, who was a child when the McDonald’s opened. “That wasn’t so much of a problem as we were used to standing in lines for days just to get our monthly ration of sugar and tea.”
So what sort of “sanitary violations” led to the closing of one of the few fast food locations in the world with historical significance? According to a Russian consumer watchdog group, McDonald’s menu contains foods full of carbohydrates and calories that “deviate widely from technical norms.” The chain says that it determines the nutritional value of its offerings based on guidelines from the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. To ensure that everything operates aboveboard, McDonald’s operates each Russian location itself as opposed to trusting responsibility to franchisees. Despite these efforts, Russian authorities claim to have found enough nutritional negligence to warrant closing a number of prominent locations. Time will tell if similar shutdowns occur at the chain’s other 430 Russian restaurants.
- Are political problems usually a risk of doing business globally?
- What major problem could McDonald’s face if Russian problems persist?
Source: Alec Luhn, “Russia Closes McDonald’s Restaurants for ‘Sanitary Violations,’” The Guardian, August 20, 2014; Mitya Kushelevich, “A Love Letter to Russia’s Shuttered McDonald’s Restaurants,” The Calvert Journal, September 4, 2014. Photo by Adam Baker.