You’ve probably read about the group that wants McDonald's to stop marketing to children and wants to force the quick service restaurant to “retire” Ronald McDonald. But do you know who the group is? What is its work? What does it stand for?

Corporate Accountability International says McDonald’s is encouraging unhealthy eating habits and contributing to childhood obesity and related diseases such as diabetes. The group’s paid ad, an “open letter” to McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner, appeared in several U.S. newspapers May 17.

An image depicting a smiling doctor holding a small child appeared with the letter, which begins, “As health professionals engaged directly in the largest preventable health crisis facing this country, we ask that you stop marketing junk food to children.” Conjures up an image of health professionals dedicated to the health of children, doesn’t it? The letter was signed by over 500 health groups and professionals, and those health providers are real, but that’s not really who CAI is. In fact, the organization behind the campaign against McDonald’s may not be who or what most people would think.

The real CAI 

Check out Corporate Accountability International’s website. This is not a group focused on the well-being of children. The real nature of CAI is communicated in the titles of several of its publications:

  • Challenging Corporate Control of Water
  • Challenging Corporate Abuse of Our Food
  • Challenging Big Tobacco

Get the drift? They obviously aren’t fans of capitalism. Other clues include a light box with “Your vote for the worst corporation in 2010” and a “Corporate Hall of Shame” for a range of sins, including “Hired U.S. guns killing civilians in Iraq.”

Anti-corporate polemics 

CAI, which has campaigned against the marketing of infant formula, bottled water and Joe Camel, claims in an anniversary booklet it has been “waging winning campaigns to challenge corporate abuse for more than 30 years.” Corporate foes have included Nestle and GE – and now the fast food industry in general and McDonald’s in particular.

Some of CAI’s more bizarre polemics include a proclamation that it is “building a movement challenging the fast food industry to stop interfering in the political process, preventing the public from knowing the health risks of fast food and bombarding our children with manipulative marketing.”

CAI’s 10 directors include a couple of medical doctors, a psychologist, the director of an organic consumers association, several author-activists, a public health lawyer, a local foods advocate and a former World Bank and WTO employee who has been “tear-gassed on four continents” protesting those organizations.

Dark side 

Attacking corporations is the group’s focus, which, by the way, does not include educating parents and children about healthy diets or lifestyles. It does include fund raising.

Interesting perspective on this news story can be found in a Washington Post blog, “The asinine campaign to retire Ronald McDonald”. The Washington Post calls the CAI campaign asinine. From my perspective, the campaign is cynical and disturbing.