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Bad Business Awards

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Companies spend a lot of time and money building their reputation, but just one wrong move (whether malice, misperception or a simple mistake) can bring it crashing down. That’s why every quarter, we’ll be doling out a handful of Bad Business Awards—pointing out all the ways brands have taken a wrong turn or failed to own their sh*t.

No matter how good your products, services or intentions are, nobody’s perfect. And the sooner you recognize that, the sooner you can use it to your advantage. So without further ado...

This Business Sucks

WINNER

McDonald's
awardsLow nutrition value, low wages and even lower morals—is it any surprise that McDonald’s topped our list of bad businesses? The Golden Arches may not be showing any physical signs of tarnish, but the brand’s reputation sure is.
Founded in 1940, McDonald’s is the youngest company among our first Bad Business Awards recipients—yet it was easy to declare as our winner. For starters, the global fast-food chain’s customer review score on Better Business Bureau is lower than that of both runners up, Wells Fargo and Kroger. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

McDonald’s is a prime example of a billion-dollar company that pays rock-bottom wages and expects tax payers to pick up the slack through food assistance programs and other social services. Just how bad are the wages? Low enough that McDonald’s workers across 15 cities banned together in May 2021 to strike for $15 minimum wage. To make matters worse, instead of listening to the people that helped it net $5 billion in profit in 2020, the company spied on its workers and labeled minimum-wage activists as a security threat.

And while some naysayers are claiming that minimum-wage jobs only affect teenagers (which is still bad), that’s simply not the case—as demonstrated by a viral TikTok video that showed a senior employee of the franchise struggling to clean a parking lot of trash in the summer heat. Why didn’t the restaurant take the workers’ age and ability into account when delegating tasks?

McDonald’s is desperate to avoid paying a living wage, but apparently has no problem offering potential employees free iPhones (if they make it six months on the job). It’s a move that received a lot of negative attention on Twitter, with one user aptly pointing out that “Companies will do everything but pay you a living wage.”

The bad behavior doesn’t stop there. During Pride 2021, McDonald’s was one of the many large companies called out for using the celebration as a marketing opportunity, despite being known for donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to right-wing politicians with anti-LGBTQ+ platforms.

To be honest, we’re pretty fed up with the franchise. After all, McDonald’s has long marketed junk to children, mistreated the animals it sources meat from, added chemicals and preservatives to its food and made Happy Meals with chicken nuggets that...have been said to melt?

While we may be the first to “award” Mcdonald’s for disrespecting its employees and customers, we’re certainly not the only ones who have called attention to the brand’s misdemeanors. In the past, McDonald’s has come under fire for everything from systemic sexual harassment and racial discrimination to inadequate COVID-19 protection.

Need we say more?

1st runner up

Wells Fargo
This is one financial services company you definitely shouldn’t invest in. Don’t believe us? Try asking one of its many disgruntled and overworked employees—or one of its hundreds of duped customers.
Wells Fargo is infamous for once opening millions of fraudulent customer accounts—a scandal that started during the early 2000s and ultimately cost the brand $185 million in fines. For an American multinational financial services company, it can’t get much lower than that. Or maybe it can.

The company has a despicably low score on Better Business Bureau, which also happens to detail several government interventions over improper sales practices (particularly those related to an online insurance referral program in 2019) as well as the aforementioned scheme. It turns out impossible-to-meet sales goals will inspire employees to assign products and services to consumers without their consent. Yikes.

More recently, Wells Fargo has been in the news for exploiting its workforce by failing to pay employees for overtime hours and roping staff into working unpaid night shifts to solicit more business. Not only that, but in July 2021, the financial institution made yet another shockingly anti-consumer move by deciding to shut down all personal lines of credit at the bank to “simplify its product offerings.”

In case you’re wondering: no, customers didn’t permit the bank to close their accounts. And yes, this did have a negative impact on their credit scores—but as usual, the brand didn’t seem to care. Because let’s be honest, Wells Fargo sucks.

2ND runner up

Kroger
Mistreating your staff is inexcusable during an ordinary year, let alone one when people are grappling with a global pandemic. If you ask us, Kroger needs to clean up a lot more than its aisles.
We’ve all been dealing with COVID-19 in our own ways...but some of us are better at it than others. Take Kroger, an American grocery store chain, for example. In 2021, it was widely criticized for shutting several store locations to avoid a local ordinance on hazard pay in L.A. The proposed 120-day, $5-wage increase was meant to accommodate frontline workers who have kept essential services up and running throughout the pandemic. But rather than pay, Kroger—which has a net worth of over $34 billion—closed multiple stores and laid off more than 250 employees. This isn’t an isolated incident, either; Kroger, which just so happens to be the second-largest grocery store chain in the U.S., pulled the same stunt in Long Beach and Seattle.

On top of that, a man named Alvin Motley Jr. was shot and killed by a security guard outside of a Kroger Fuel Center in Memphis, Tennessee—allegedly over a dispute about loud music playing from his car. Ben Crump, the Motley family’s attorney had this to say to Kroger: “You have a duty to provide safety and have qualified employees and contractors who won’t kill Black people over loud music.”

And if that wasn’t enough, a quick scan of r/Kroger on Reddit shows that the store’s employees are battling everything from scheduling problems to being refused sick leave. While we can applaud the fact that the company has been cracking down on wasteful plastic packaging, until it starts treating employees like people—not numbers—we’ll be taking our business elsewhere.

Eligibility

We love calling brands out on their sh*t as much as the next person...but only if we have a good reason for doing so. To determine our Bad Business Awards winners and runners up, we scour the web to figure out which brands are most getting on peoples’ nerves. Once that’s done, shortlisted companies are ranked based on:

• Their treatment of employees
• Their treatment of customer
• Their CSR initiatives

We do this using their Trustpilot and Better Business Bureau ratings, Indeed Work Happiness scores, CSRHUB and MSCI ESG ratings, and other metrics. The brands with the lowest average scores across all three of the above categories wind up here.

The best way to avoid landing on this list? Take the criticism your brand receives to heart, respond authentically and keep asking for more feedback. At Vox Populi Registry, we believe .SUCKS domains can help with this. Every company will face the wrath of disgruntled employees, customers and competitors at some point or another—but the successful ones have a strategy that helps them use it to their advantage.