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McDonald’s lures customers with illegal ads on Independence Day

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Photo: The Korea Observer
Lee Tae-hoon
Written by Lee Tae-hoon

SEOUL — As Korea celebrated the 70th anniversary of liberation from Japanese colonial rule this weekend, McDonald’s launched an aggressive campaign to promote its drive-through service by offering free burgers and coffee.

Some Koreans, however, found the American fast-food chain’s free food campaign extremely offensive.

“Their ads remind me of Yankees throwing candy to malnourished Korean kids when our country was dirt poor,” Kim Chun-sam, a mechanic living in Shinwol, Seoul, said as he pointed to McDonald’s banners illegally hung on flag poles and blocking the bicycle path.

“Really stupid. They hung a banner on a spot where our national flag, Taegeukki, should be placed. Are they dumb or simply don’t care about local regulations? Look right above the illegal ad is a sign that reads Police Enforcement.”

Another Seoul resident, Choi Ji-eun, also expressed her concerns over what she described as McDonald’s “shameless campaign” of its drive-through.

“McDonald’s is the world’s largest restaurant chain, right? So does it mean that they don’t need to respect local culture and do whatever they want here?” she asked, noting that McDonald’s has been accused of abusing young Korean workers.

“Is McDonald’s Korea’s boss a foreigner or clueless about Independence Day?”

Though the law is hardly enforced, posting ads on street poles is illegal and violators may face a fine of up to 5 million won.

Joe Erlinger,  managing director of McDonald’s Korea, serves a customer at a drive-through Photo Credit:Yonhap

Joe Erlinger,  managing director of McDonald’s Korea, serves a customer at a drive-through Photo Credit:Yonhap

McDonald’s Korea is currently led by managing director Joe Erlinger who is American recently named as the fast-food giant’s chief financial officer (CFO) for “eight high-growth markets,” including Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Russia, Poland, China and Korea.

Erlinger has been on hot seat faced with mounting criticism over McDonald’s Korea’s alleged abuse of workers’ rights.

A recent survey of 500 McDonald’s part-time workers in Korea reveals that only 48 percent of them had a copy of an employment contract.

The Part-Time Workers Union (PTWU) in Korea also claims that 65 percent of McDonald’s workers suffer from arbitrary schedules adjustments and 22 percent of them have experienced delays of their paychecks.

On average, McDonald’s employees receive 6,451 won ($5.5) an hour in Korea last year, about 400 won higher than the current minimum wage of 6,030 won, according to a poll by Albamon.

Related News: Fast food workers occupy McDonald’s restaurant in protest

About the author

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon is publisher at The Korea Observer. He previously worked for the Korea Times and Arirang TV. You can reach him at

  • Anonymous_Joe

    I believe that minimum wage in Korea is presently W5,580. The minimum wage cited is for 2016,so McDonalds pays its employees on average W820 more than the current minimum wage.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    Quote from outraged citizen found in the article above:

    “Are they dumb or simply don’t care about local regulations?”

    I actually laughed out loud

    • AFD

      I also laughed out loud, considering I’m living in a city where driving through red lights, cruising motorcycles on sidewalks, double parking, throwing trash, vomiting and pissing on the street are all commonly practiced here.

  • patrick brannan

    What a joke. Just more xenophobic selective scapegoating brought to you by the most open minded and accepting place on earth. Are Lotteria sales in the toilet? Must be. Pull the American troops outta here and see how well their economy competes.

  • Ken in Korea

    I’m no fan of McDonald’s, but really, that’s it… they displayed sales banners around the time of Independence Day? Slow day in the news?

    • redwhitedude

      Must be. What a lame waste of space writing up this article.

  • MasterofYou

    The photo of the white guy is from 2013 to commemorate the 100th Drive Thru opened in Jeju. The photo then is misleading the reader into thinking that Westerners were behind this policy. McDonalds is a franchise and that means it was local Korean owners who agreed it was a good idea to give free food and that it was a agood idea who paid for the free food and the hanging of hte banner below the national flag. Koreans did this to themselves. This has nothing to do with McDonalds as a foreign franchised company

    • farawayplace

      Run by Koreans. “Mistake” made by Koreans. Nothing done by white people here.

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