• 25 Jun, 2024

KFC Disability Double Standard Explodes at International Airport

KFC Disability Double Standard Explodes at International Airport


In India, KFC owner ticks off all the right boxes under human rights. But a kerfuffle at its Nigerian airport outlet smacks of something yucky
 

By Elijah Olusegun

When it comes to inclusion, franchisee Devyani International Limited (DIL) which owns KFC Nigeria, and Yum! Brands, owners of the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) global brand, differ in identity. DIL doesn’t care a hoot about a clear-cut disability policy framework in its business operation. And, on principles, it owes no authority any public disclosure in matters of internal policies.

Adebola Daniel brought out this difference in all its rights abusiveness at the KFC outlet in Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, late March. “No wheelchairs allowed,” the outlet manager told him as he settled in. And she didn’t mince her words throughout the dispute that followed.

Section 55 of the Lagos State Special People Law (LSSPL) makes it clear: A person shall not deprive another person of access to any place, vehicle or that members of the public are entitled to enter or use on the basis of the disability of that person.

The manager dismissed this, and acted on order. 

“It is something that has been drummed into them. No wheelchairs allowed,” Daniel, the son of a former governor, travelling with his wife and siblings, said, paraphrasing the manager’s statement. “I felt less than human.”  

But the story is different at Devyani’s KFC Mumbai Airport Services, and other outlets in 28 more states across India, its headquarters. In its official documents there, DIL says it complies with the disability laws of its country of operation.

The India Disability Act 2016, in Section 3, subsection 3, forbids any person with disability to be discriminated on the ground of their disability—except when such act is for a legitimate aim. And in Section 2 (h), under Definition: “Discrimination” in relation to disability, means any distinction, exclusion, restriction on the basis of disability which is the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field and includes all forms of discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation.

A no-wheelchairs policy can hardly stand these provisions and their application in DIL’s country of origin. So in compliance, the company made some of its offices and facilities accessible, the document states.

In Nigeria, DIL is little known. Chellarams Plc, an Indian-owned conglomerate, describes it as an ‘associate’ in annual reports it files with the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Sailing under another’s colour probably emboldens DIL to operate a double standard in its disability management in Nigeria. 

The 2022-2023 annual report it filed with the India Stock Exchange June 10 reveals the company employs 94 PWDs (differently-abled persons) among the 15,685 people working there. In e-mail to the company’s contact person, Gaurav Gupta, ER asked how many of the 160 in KFC Nigeria (according to a contact data-gathering platform Apollo.io) are PWDs. He didn’t respond as of the time of publishing this report. 

Anyway, a company that enforces a no-wheelchair policy will most likely think little of the equal-opportunity affirmative action. DIL, though, claims otherwise. It, however, provides the Exchange authority no evidence the company has a policy to that effect.

It has equally denied discriminating against PWDs—let alone a wheelchair user—in Nigeria. 

In its reaction to the social media storm the airport incident triggered, KFC Nigeria insisted in a tweet that inclusivity and respect are non-negotiable pillars of its values.

But the manager’s handling of the incident didn’t just expose DIL’s disregard for Nigeria’s Prohibition Act 2018 that grounds those pillars; it also scandalized the QSR. 

“We are urgently implementing sensitivity training for all our employees,” KFC Nigeria replied in part to Daniel’s tweet about 24 hours after the incident. “This incident is not reflective of our standards.”

The annual report belies that claim. DIL trained 1,930 employees on human rights in 2023, and about 1200 a year earlier. The knee-jerk reaction to begin training, in addition to lack of figure in the report, only indicates no KFC employees in Nigeria participated in any such training. This is a QSR that opened shop in Lagos in 2009, three years before Lagos passed its LSSPL whose provisions are mostly similar to India’s.

Lack of training on human rights in 15 years is only one aspect of DIL’s recklessness. For disability training, the international brand seems a no-account, too. It indicates in the report how it provides health and safety training, skills upgrade, and others for the workers. None, so far, on disability—at least in Nigeria.

The five-year moratorium Nigeria’s Prohibition Act 2018 gave before full enforcement of its provisions expired in February. Many could have expected the National Commission for Person with Disabilities (NCPWD) to react to this breach with some passion. But the commission has only condemned the act, and invited KFC to an April 4 meeting, with a promise to make a media show of it. The Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs, too, could merely condemn it. Both are waiting—as their laws prescribe—for Daniel to come crying to them before they can go to court.

The condemnations are okay, Adulwahab Matepo, national president, Spinal Cord Injury Association of Nigeria (SCIAN), told ER. “But they should do more by encouraging Daniel to take legal action against KFC, if he doesn’t want to. Whether it’s the LSSPL or the federal law, the time is ripe to take violators to court.”

In India, the disability law calls on the chief commissioner for PWDs to haul up the manager and her company to a special court.

For now, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is the only government body that has taken a step close to action: it shut down the KFC airport outlet until the management tender a public apology to Daniel.
FAAN also demanded the company publish its sensitivity policy framework on its premises. 

A standoff may be in the offing. 

DIL, in one of its responses to the Indian regulator took a stand against such disclosure. “All employee related policies are uploaded on the intranet portal of the Company for communication and implementation. Other policies are uploaded on the Company’ website," the report states.

If DIL swung this crisis without complying with the demands of both the FAAN and Nigeria’s disability laws, there would be consequences. Matepo and many others believed, ideally, the airport incident would make other organisations wary of discriminating against PWDs. But the reverse would certainly play out.
 

Play the story