McDonald's has launched a dedicated Investigation Handling Unit after UK and Ireland CEO Alistair Macrow said he found allegations made to the BBC of sexual assault, harassment, racism and bullying within its workforce "personally and professionally shocking".
The BBC investigation, which began after the fast-food chain signed an agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to protect staff from sexual harassment in February, heard from more than 100 current and recent employees who made allegations that employees as young as 17 were "groped and harassed almost routinely".
The BBC has said 31 allegations were received related to sexual assault and 78 to sexual harassment. It has also reported 18 allegations of racism and six claims of homophobia.
After allegations were published on Tuesday (18 July) McDonald's immediately issued an apology and said it would launch an investigation. Macrow has since confirmed that a dedicated unit will be established run by HR and legal professionals, who will refer the most serious cases to a third-party legal team staffed by specialist investigators.
He added: "Any substantiated breaches of our code of conduct will be met with the most severe measures up to, and including, dismissal.
"I commit to all former or current employees, who have experienced any type of harassment, abuse, discrimination, and victimisation that the full weight of our Investigation Handling Unit will be applied in pursuit of resolution."
McDonald's will also appoint external experts to evaluate the company's complaint escalation protocols and lead a company-wide conversation aimed at ensuring the business has a ‘speaking up' culture. A panel of restaurant employees from across the country will also be assembled to operate as an advisory group.
Macow said: "I would like to reiterate my unreserved apology to, and empathy with, all those affected in any way, and I commend their bravery in coming forward.
"We have clearly fallen short in some critical areas, and I am determined to root out any behaviour or conduct that falls below the high standards of respect, safety and inclusion we demand of everyone at McDonald's as detailed in our global brand standards."
He added: "I will make sure that everyone is in no doubt of my own unequivocal insistence on zero tolerance of harassment of any kind and to ensure our non-negotiable message of respect and inclusivity is heard clearly throughout our business."
When the BBC's investigation was published a spokesperson for the EHRC said: "We are concerned to hear of these new allegations of sexual and racial harassment. We will look at them closely in the context of our current legal agreement with McDonald's to tackle sexual harassment of staff in its restaurants."
McDonald's has made a number of legally binding commitments with the EHRC, including to communicate a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, enhance policies and procedures to prevent sexual harassment, improve responses to complaints, and introduce specific training and materials to help managers identify areas of risk within their restaurants and take steps to prevent sexual harassment.