- McLibel -


Posted by: Todd S. Henry ( USA ) on July 17, 1998 at 10:01:52:

I haven't read any of the messages in the debate room, but I have read "The Story" and several other articles pertaining to this trial. I will definately have some bias since I live in the United States. So here are some of my thoughts.

The McSpotlight page advertises the opportunity to provide alternative views on McDonald's issues. However, it is a very biased expression of anti-McDonald's sentiment. The story itself is a very poor example of fair, unbiased journalism. I understand that most people looking are happy with this slant, but the best way to argue a point is to start by presenting the facts in a rational, unbiased fashion.

As for the trial and outcome, what a complete waste of everyone's time! McDonald's spent tons of money and got what they needed, which is to completely dilute the original charges. The defandants ended up with all the money (by appealing to the masses for financial support) and got what they wanted by proving several of their charges. But in the end the real winners were the lawyers. This is a large problem in the US. Several years of productivity were spent out of 100s of lives (all of the people that were involved in the case). I am not attacking, I am just expressing my dissappointment in human nature. The gains made by one side or the other are so miniscule in comparison with the effort put forth by the group as a whole. That corresponds to massive inefficiency.

As for the charges, I am sure that in some places there are bad working conditions. But if you look at the total number of employees and the number that indicated a problem, it is very, very small. As for the environment, we should all be ashamed of our affect on the environment. You cannot change the problem by one company at a time. It needs to be changed by leglislation that provides blanket regulation.

The other reason that this whole case was inefficient is that nothing positive was said. At no time do I see that better alternatives were presented. The whole story started and ended as a bashing of McDonald's. I myself have seen nothing to convince me not to eat at McDonald's. They are no worse (and maybe no better) than a lot of organizations with regards to working conditions, the environment, advertising to children, etc. Most of this is caused by the ever-increasing consumer demand, which is caused by the spiraling population problem. That's where you ought to be focusing you efforts.

McSpotlight: With all due respect, you've not read "the story" very carefully, then. Much of the evidence presented from McSpotlight comes from "expert witnesses" or internationally-recognised organisations. A fair bit comes from McDonald's people themselves. If it appears anti-McDonald's, it's probably due in part to the stranglehold that McDonald's has over the conventional "mass" media - as you have (of course!) seen in reading about the "Jungleburger" case and its bearing on the McLibel case.

The trial was most definitely not a waste of time. It was unplanned - no one in London Greenpeace really expected to be sued about a leaflet that originally had a circulation of 2000! As a matter of principle, however, they refused to apologise, hence the trial.

No side can really be said to have "got what they want".

McDonald's was found to be culpably cruel to animals, promote an unhealthy diet and exploit parents and children via "pester power" - which is pretty damning for a company that markets itself as a "fluffy" family-friendly restaurant. They ended up looking like corporate bullies, didn't get a penny from the case and spent millions. Since the case, they've been astonishingly quiet about the whole thing - they promised to comment on the case after the verdict, but have not issued anything but a 10-minute statement by Paul Preston.

The McLibel Two were unable to prove points they felt to be true - this might be due to the fact that they were not allowed a jury or legal aid - meaning that they had to defend themselves against Richard Rampton (who was, at the time, one of the UK's best libel lawyers, if not _the_ best...). As such they feel their trial was unfair, which is why it is being taken to appeal - many of the points would be much easier for them to prove if they had the resources to call the witnesses they needed. They haven't made a penny out of the trial - all donations have been used to fight the case, and will continue to be. They have also given up 4 years of their life fighting a near-hopelessly one-sided case.

Not even Richard Rampton (McDonald's lawyer) got what he wanted - what he thought would be a quick and easy case turned into a three year slog, and his reputation suffered because the Two turned in a surprisingly good performance in the courtroom, despite being unfamiliar with the procedures. Instead of riding roughshod over the defence, he ended up getting unseated fairly spectacularly - at one point in the courtroom, he was reduced to the deliberate and repeated dropping of a pencil (and theatrical coughing!) in order to try and disrupt a thorough cross-examination by the Two (check the court transcripts!).

As for the time spent on the case; the defendant's team did it because they felt it was right; as such, time spent is irrelevant. And McDonald's team did it because they were getting paid - making it no more "wasteful" than many other jobs.

The UK libel laws are badly in need of a rethink, as this case demonstrated. In the US, the individual has a right enshrined in the law - the right to criticize government bodies and companies. We don't have that right here in the UK, which is why a major company like McDonald's can throw threats of libel at any organisation it doesn't agree with (like the BBC).

The environment; would you wait for the Government to tell you to clean up before you cleaned up? Or should you take matters into your own hands - because, after all, the total environmental damage is the sum of everyone's individual damages. Certainly, the defendants in this case would argue that you don't wait for Someone Else to tell you to clean up - you organize, go out, and start cleaning up yourself, without relying on leaders or bigwigs or monolithic structures. And if that means boycott of environmentally-irresponsible companies like McDonald's, so be it.

Nothing positive? Speaking personally, I stopped eating meat as a result of this case, and my own feeling is that anyone who can look at the evidence, especially that part dealing with animal cruelty and STILL eat at McDonald's displays a stunning lack of compassion.

They are worse than a lot of organizations with regard to working practices (certainly, my place of work is in an entirely different league!) and their pay levels "help to depress wages across the entire fast food industry". They aren't called McJobs for nothing.

And that should apply whether you're in London, New York, or Ulan Bator.

Follow Ups:

The Debating Room Post a Followup