CEOs at fast-food giants including McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, and Starbucks speak out to support protests, as some face internal reckonings and criticism


  • Top fast-food executives are speaking out in support of protests against racial injustice and police brutality across the US.
  • Some chains coupled statements with internal discussions of racism. Wingstop is forming a task force and McDonald’s is donating $1 million and meeting with black franchisee groups.
  • Many more chains have posted in solidarity with protests on social media, though few publicly matched statements with concrete donations or actions.
  • Critics say that the restaurant industry needs to do more to combat systematic racism. The industry’s leadership is overwhelmingly white, while workers in restaurants are disproportionately black and Latino.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Top executives at the biggest chains in America are speaking out in support of protests following the death of George Floyd. At the same time, the protests are sparking internal discussions about racism.

CEOs at chains including Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell have released statements in recent days supporting protests, with some white executives admitting that they cannot understand the injustices Black people face. While restaurants across the US have been vandalized amid looting, executives and representatives have been quick to emphasize solidarity instead of discussing property damage.

Joe Erlinger, the head of McDonald’s US business, said in an open letter on Saturday that McDonald’s “tended to stay silent on issues that don’t directly involve our business.” However, he said he was “appalled by recent events in Louisville, Georgia, New York, and Minneapolis.”

“I will not speak to – nor will I claim to fully understand – how events like these affect African Americans and people of color,” Erlinger wrote. “However, I see and recognize the impact these events have at an individual and collective level. And, when any member of our McFamily hurts, we all hurt. “

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski also sent an internal message on Sunday, saying the “killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky were truly shocking to me, and revealed how intractable hate and ignorance are in our society.

“The protests across the country over the last few days give voice to the anger, sadness, and despair so many of us are feeling right now,” Kempczinski wrote in the message, viewed by Business Insider.

McDonald’s announced on Wednesday that it would donate to $1 million the National Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), with a tweet stating “Black Lives Matter.”

Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy posted a message on LinkedIn, calling for people to “join together to build a world that reflects God’s love for all of us.” Cathy said that Chick-fil-A bolstered financial investments in Atlanta’s Westside district. (Chick-fil-A announced it had adjusted its controversial donation practices in November, with a new focus on on homelessness, hunger and education.)

“There are countless academics and analysts who have written about how our democratic capitalism benefits only a few hundred incredibly wealthy families, individuals and corporations, so that the American dream is now reserved almost exclusively for them and their descendants,” Cathy wrote.

“Because I am among that demographic, I am calling on them – us – to use our power and influence,” Cathy continued.

Taco Bell CEO Mark King said in an open letter on Tuesday that, as a white male, he “will not pretend to understand the weight of the years of injustice and inequality that our Black friends and colleagues have experienced.”

“Let me be clear: we don’t tolerate racism or violence against Black people,” King added. “And we demand inclusivity. We have more work to do and Taco Bell will continue to lead and drive positive change amongst our communities and beyond.”

Dunkin’ Brands CEO Dave Hoffman posted a letter on LinkedIn on Tuesday saying the “disruption we are seeing across our country in the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd is a stark reminder that we have a responsibility to oppose, racism, hatred, and injustice in all forms.”

Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison shared a letter with the chicken chain’s employees and brand partners on Monday, saying “we cannot stand idly by and be complacent in this disregard for humanity.”

In a message on Saturday, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson discussed a forum that 2,000 people within the coffee giant took part in earlier that day about racial injustices. On Thursday, the coffee giant committed $1 million in donations selected by employees to promote racial equality.

“We have always believed in being a different kind of company,” Johnson said. “Today was an example of that – and we will continue having these conversations.”

Internal forums and discussion have swept fast food

Howard Schultz

This is the latest in a number of internal forums Starbucks has held in recent years to discuss racial injustice.

The coffee giant has held numerous internal forums and town halls on issues related to race and police brutality since 2014, when Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Starbucks held town halls and in-store training when two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks after trying to use the bathroom in 2018.

With the recent protests, other chains are following Starbucks’ example, as some take steps to grapple with how the companies should respond to racism.

McDonald’s hosted a town hall for all US-based employees in Tuesday, a systemwide webcast with franchisees and workers on Wednesday, and is holding an employee webcast on “coping with modern day racism” on Thursday, according to messages viewed by Business Insider.

Erlinger and Kempczinski also held a webcast with McDonald’s National Black McDonald’s Owners Association (NBMOA) on Tuesday. According to an agenda of the webcast viewed by Business Insider, points of conversation included “aggressive actions” to address black franchisee discrepancies.

In December, Business Insider reported that black McDonald’s franchisees say their stores net $68,000 less a month, on average, than McDonald’s overall franchisee average, a disparity has more than doubled in recent years.

Wingstop is forming a task force to create a plan “centered around action and accountability for the long term,” following an open forum to discuss the murder of George Floyd and the protests on Friday.

“It was raw, emotional, powerful, and authentic in every sense of the word,” Morrison said in his letter. “I walked away from that meeting knowing, and hearing first-hand, that we must make these voices of concern actionable.”

King said in his letter that James Fripp, the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut’s parent company Yum Brands, hosted a panel for corporate employees on combatting systematic racism. Taco Bell’s restaurant workers will have the opportunity to do the same, with King saying the chain will take further actions.

A KFC representative told Business Insider that the chain will also hold a panel with Fripp this week, “as part of our journey in fighting against racial injustice.” According to the representative, KFC’s leadership hosted a forum with franchisees on Monday and is providing a “variety of forums for these crucial conversations to take place.”

Critics say that fast-food giants need to do more

protests arby's fast food

Leadership in the restaurant industry is overwhelmingly white. There is not a single black CEO of among all restaurant companies in the Fortune 500.

Meanwhile, workers in the restaurant industry are disproportionately Black and Latino. Further, restaurant workers of color make 56% less than their white counterparts, after adjusting for education and language proficiency, according to a 2014 survey by the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Fast-food giants have faced criticism for the pay and treatment of workers in restaurants.

McDonald’s paid its CEO almost 2,000 times as much as the average worker in 2019, a figure that is not significantly out of line with industry rivals.

During the coronavirus pandemic, concerns regarding fast-food workers safety and benefits were thrust into the spotlight.

Chains including McDonald’s and Wendy’s gave workers in corporate stores a temporary pay bump during the pandemic after some employees demanded hazard pay. Fight for 15, a Service Employees International Union-backed campaign on fast-food workers’ rights and benefits, helped workers organize a number of protests at chains across the US.

“Companies won’t save us,” Fight for 15 tweeted on Tuesday, in response to an article about McDonald’s speaking about the protests. “Especially companies like @McDonalds that have, time and time again, put their personal corporate profit ahead of the lives of workers of color from COVID-19 to rampant sexual harassment to poverty wages.”

Wendy’s, as well as Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, faced backlash on Tuesday following Business Insider’s report that a franchisee who sat on President Trump’s restaurant roundtable and owns hundreds of locations of the three chains donated more than $440,000 to the president’s reelection.

Taco Bell tweeted it “does not make donations to presidential political campaigns and has no involvement with or control over donations made by franchisees.” While Wendy’s did not directly acknowledge the donation, it announced on Wednesday that the company would donate $500,000 to support social justice.

Fast-food giants are posting support on social media, but concrete next steps are still rare

As some executives speak out, other chains are using their social media to support protests and speak out against racial injustice. However, as of Wednesday, few have announced donations or concrete further actions.

Burger King and Popeyes, which are owned by Restaurant Brands International, tweeted in support of protests. Burger King seemed to riff on its motto, tweeting “when it comes to people’s lives, there’s only one way to have it.”

Popeyes raised eyebrows with a since-deleted tweet that read simply “Popeyes is nothing without Black lives,” before posting a lengthier statement.

Subway, Wingstop, Chipotle, and Shake Shack posted black squares in support of Blackout Tuesday. The action was framed as a way for individuals and companies to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, but has been criticized by some as “counterproductive” and “performative.”

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Panera Bread tweeted a quote from CEO Niren Chaudhary: “I am stating very clearly, black lives matter.”

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Chipotle and Waffle House’s executives have voiced similar sentiments.

“During this heightened time of tension and frustration, we will continue to stand by our core values and our culture of inclusivity and mutual respect by doing what we do best – taking care of every neighbor and every stranger with compassion and hospitality, in a place that remains open to all,” Waffle House’s PR Director Njeri Boss said in a statement to Business Insider.

Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said in an interview with CNBC on Monday that issues that sparked the protests need to be addressed. Niccol said that no workers have been injured in protests.

“We have had some damage to restaurants, but it’s all damage frankly that we can patch up and fix,” Niccol said.