A dispute has erupted between Burger King and one of its franchisees over global warming. The franchisee, Mirabile Investment Corporation had placed the placed the political statement global warming is baloney on a dozen of their signs across Tennessee. Corporate BK ordered the statement taken down, and the franchisee has refused.
According to The Guardian, Mirabile Investment Corporation (MIC) owns more than 40 Burger Kings across Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The controversy erupted when a Memphis newspaper reporter discovered the signs then contacted corporate Burger King for comment. BK headquarters originally knew nothing about the signs, but upon verifying their existence, ordered them removed.
However the marketing president of MIC, John McNeils, refused to take the signs down, “I would think [Burger King] would run from any form of controversy kinda like cockroaches when the lights get turned on. I’m not aware of any direction that they gave the franchisee and I don’t think they have the authority to do it.”
McNeils said that he had the right to display the signs, “The [restaurant] management team can put the message up there if they want to. It is private property and here in the US we do have some rights. Notwithstanding a franchise agreement, I could load a Brinks vehicle with [rights] I’ve got so many of them. By the time the Burger King lawyers work out how to make that stick we’d be in the year 2020. Burger King can bluster all they want about what they can tell the franchisee to do, but we have free-speech rights in this country so I don’t think there’s any concerns.”
Meanwhile corporate Burger King is trying to distance itself from a potential PR disaster. BK’s director of corporate communications said, The statement that was posted on several restaurants’ reader boards in the Memphis area, and the view expressed by the franchisee on this issue does not reflect Burger King Corp’s opinion … BKC has guidelines for signage used by franchisees [which] were not followed. We have asked the franchisee to remove the signage and have been told that the franchisee will comply.”
It is a pretty safe bet that there is a clause in the franchise agreement that prohibits these kinds of political statements. If there wasn’t a standard clause, then these types of statements would pop up all of the time. I am going to take a wild guess here that MIC is keeping the signs up, while telling corporate that they will take them down.
It is likely that MIC signed away their free speech right when they signed the franchise agreement. It won’t take until 2020 to figure this one. If it ends up in court, a judge will be able to rule based on the agreement. If the signs aren’t removed, corporate could strip the franchisee of the franchise, which is what would probably land this dispute in court.
It is not good business for any industry that is dependent on the personal tastes of customers to engage in partisan politics. The last thing Burger King wants is to be known as the home of the global warming deniers. If there is any ambiguity in the franchise agreement, it could set up an interesting legal challenge.
If franchisees would be allowed to display political statements, I wonder how many would. Personally, the last thing I would want is to be subjected to a political statement while grabbing a meal. I have enough politics in my life, and I would like to think that I can go somewhere and eat in peace.
(H/T: Think Progress)