The Stasi and the golden arches

Franchisees in Germany are alleging the use of dirty tactics

Getty Images

Have you ever felt like your boss was using Cold War espionage techniques to undermine your work? If you own a McDonald’s franchise in Germany, your paranoia may not be as hyperbolic as it seems. One German lawyer is currently representing 24 former McDonald’s franchisees, accusing the fast-food giant of using underhanded techniques to squeeze them out of business and consolidate ownership, specifying the tactics of one company inspector who used to work as an informant for the East German secret police, the Stasi.

As the German newspaper Der Spiegel reports, franchisees are alleging that they were subjected to constant inspections and charged with seemingly random and arbitrary “violations” of the franchise agreements. Employees were surreptitiously wooed by inspectors to snitch on management; private comments between franchisees and restaurant managers were later quoted in performance reviews. When one now-former franchisee attempted to videotape inspections that he deemed as harassment, McDonald’s sought a court order to stop him on the grounds of “infringement of personal rights.”

The McDonald’s inspector at the heart of the story—identified only as Bernd R.—started his Stasi career in the 1980s by snitching on soldiers who were stealing fruit; he later graduated to a government restaurant. After the fall of Communism, he was hired by McDonald’s, who reviewed his official Stasi file and deemed him unproblematic. Bernd R. is no longer an inspector—he’s been put in charge of three franchises.

An earlier Der Spiegel story reported that potential franchisees are required to answer questions about extramarital affairs and details of any health problems. But McDonald’s isn’t the only American fast-food company in Germany to ask intrusive questions. The same report noted that Subway asks its franchisees questions about lifestyle, and demands they undergo a background check “in accordance with anti-terror legislation” in the U.S.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.