TV viewers and McLibel supporters in the USA will be getting a special Yuletide treat this year!
A mini-documentary on the McLibel case (lasting approx 15 minutes) is scheduled to be broadcast as part of the '60 Minutes' programme airing on CBS TV across the United States* on Sunday 28th December from 7pm. * CBS can also be picked up in some parts of southern Canada.
The programme has average audiences in the US of 40 million people. If you live in the USA, you may want to watch it and record it on your VCR. The programme may also be shown in other countries on future dates.
If you like the CBS showing, a full-length, exclusive documentary "McLibel: Two Worlds Collide" (lasting 52 minutes) is now available on video (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details).
Also, please note:
(1) New editions of the book "McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial" by John Vidal are available in bookshops the UK, USA, and some other countries, and by mail order from the McLibel Campaign (contact email@example.com for more details);
(2) A CD-ROM of the McSpotlight Internet site is now available (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details).
THE McLIBEL CASE
"It will go down in history as the most expensive and disasterous public relations exercise ever mounted by a multinational company" according to Channel 4 News, while Mike Mansfield QC called it "the trial of the century as it concerns the most important issues that any of us have to face living our ordinary lives." This is the 'McLibel' Trial which, after three years (making it the longest trial in English history), came to an end in June 1997. It was a victory for campaigners as the judge slammed McDonald's core business practices, evidence in the trial backed up all the criticisms made of the company, and the campaign became unstoppable.
The trial was a mammoth legal battle between the $30 billion a year McDonald's Corporation and two North London campaigners (Helen Steel and Dave Morris). The fast-food giant sued them for libel over a 6-sided factsheet entitled "What's Wrong With McDonald's? Everything they don't want you to know" which was produced in 1986 by the collective London Greenpeace, the original Greenpeace group in Europe but independent of the international organisation. Helen & Dave were outrageously denied their right to a jury trial and, with no right to Legal Aid, were forced to conduct their own defence against McDonald's team of top libel lawyers. The company called into the witness box all their big guns from the US and UK - executives, departmental heads and paid consultants. It was truly a 'David v Goliath' battle.
For many years now, McDonald's tactics in the face of criticism have been to step up their own propaganda efforts to project a green and caring image, and at the same time to use libel laws to bully and intimidate their critics into silence. But when the writs were served on them, Helen & Dave decided to fight the case, determined not to bow to McDonald's attempt to censor their critics. Effectively the tables were turned and it was McDonald's and their business practices that were on trial. 180 witnesses from the UK and abroad gave evidence on the links between diet and ill-health; the environmental damage caused by mountains of disposable packaging and by cattle ranching; the effects of advertising on children; the suffering of animals reared for the food industry; the exploitation of low-paid non-unionised workers; and the connection between multinational companies like McDonald's, cash crops and starvation in the third world. Among those who testified for Helen & Dave were Professor Colin Campbell (Cornell University, USA - expert on diet and ill health), experts on deforestation in Central & South America, Dr Alan Long (animal welfare expert), Stephen Gardner (former Assistant Attorney General of Texas), and two dozen ex-employees and trade unionists. During the trial, McDonald's were so worried about the way the case was going for them and the bad publicity they were receiving that they twice flew members of their US Board of Directors to London to meet with Helen & Dave to seek ways of ending the case.
On 19th June 1997, Mr Justice Bell, in his personal verdict in the trial, ruled that substantial and significant parts of the London Greenpeace Factsheet criticising the company have been proved to be true by the evidence brought by Helen & Dave. And this was despite the overwhelming odds stacked against the Defendants who were denied legal aid and a jury, and had to represent themselves up against experienced lawyers and notoriously oppressive and unfair libel laws. Of the other parts of the Judgement, McDonald's won on the basis of controversial legal and semantic interpretations of the meaning of the "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" factsheet. These mainly regarded McDonald's claim that the factsheet meant that the company itself directly caused rainforest destruction and hunger in the third world (ignoring the factsheet's criticisms of multinationals and the food industry in general), and that people had a very real risk of cancer, heart disease and food poisoning from eating the company's food, even though the factsheet did not say this. The judge astonishingly also ruled that all the comment (bar one phrase) in the Factsheet would be treated as statements of fact which had to be proven by primary sources of evidence.
However, the Corporation must be devastated that the Judge found as a fact that McDonald's "exploit children" through their advertising, that they are "culpably responsible" for cruelty to animals, and that the company is anti-Union and pays such low wages that it helps to depress the already low wages in the catering industry even further. The Judge also found that McDonald's food was "high in fat and saturated fat and animal products and sodium" and that "advertisements, promotions and booklets have pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which McDonald's food ... did not match" (ie. that the food is not nutritious and that they are therefore deceiving the public when they promote it as such).
On Saturday 21st June, campaigners held an International VICTORY DAY OF ACTION and leafleted outside McDonald's stores around the world (including Australia, Poland, USA, Canada, Malta, Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, Sweden, New Zealand) to demonstrate McDonald's failure to silence its critics. Over 500 of the company's 750 UK stores were leafleted in a display of solidarity with the McLibel Defendants and show of conviction that all the criticisms in the 'What's Wrong With McDonald's?' leaflets are true. 2.5 million of these leaflets have now been handed out in the UK alone since the writs were served. The leaflet has become probably the most famous and widely distributed protest leaflet in history. As the Defendants were denied a jury trial, the public are in effect the wider jury and campaigners are committed to continuing to provide the public with the facts they need to judge for themselves. (The Corporation, after all, spends $2 billion every year on its global advertising and propaganda.) The McSpotlight Internet website (www.mcspotlight.org), set up to provide comprehensive information worldwide at a push of a button about McDonald's, the trial and the campaign, has been accessed over 24 million times since its launch in February 1996. It has guaranteed that all the information gathered over the last few years will remain in the public domain.
The four week deadline set by Mr Justice Bell for any final legal applications in the McLibel trial passed on 17th July 1997 without McDonald's making any application for an injunction or costs. The Corporation has thereby conceded a huge victory to campaigners by effectively abandoning its legal attempts to halt the public distribution of 'What's Wrong With McDonald's?' leaflets, and has failed to get any award of costs (despite spending an estimated 10 million pounds).
The Judge awarded 60,000 pounds damages to be paid by Helen & Dave, only half of what McDonald's had asked for, due to the number of important points the Corporation had lost. In fact, the sum has generally been considered a derisory award. Nonetheless, Helen & Dave cannot afford to pay and, more importantly, believe that McDonald's doesn't deserve a penny and that it is McDonald's who must be forced to pay compensation to those they have exploited. McDonald's have stated that they do not intend to pursue the damages.
The case has been described by the media as the biggest Corporate PR disaster in history. The McDonald's Corporation (based in Oak Brook, Illinois) is refusing to comment on the verdict, claiming falsely that it is a "UK issue". This is despite the fact that they were the first and leading Plaintiff in the McLibel action! They called top US executives into the witness box to give evidence and twice flew over other executives during the trial for secret settlement meetings with Helen and Dave. The Corporation obviously knows the damaging nature of the findings made against them and in the evidence as a whole throughout the trial. Their refusal to comment is clearly an admission of a humiliating defeat. It is a damage limitation exercise.
Helen & Dave have lodged their appeal in the British courts against the parts of the Judge's verdict which went against them and over some of the disturbing legal aspects of the case - it is scheduled to be heard in December 1998. The Defendants intend to take the British government to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the UK's unfair and oppressive libel laws - challenging the denial of Legal Aid and the right to a jury trial, and laws stacked in favour of Plaintiffs. They will argue that multinational corporations should no longer be allowed to sue for libel.
Multinationals and governments dominate our lives and our planet, resulting everywhere in the exploitation and oppression of people, animals and the environment. And on top of this we are expected to put up with their propaganda! We call on people to get together, talk about these important issues and to fight back. Together ordinary people can reclaim our world, currently based on the greed and power of a minority, and create a society based on strong and free communities, the sharing of precious resources and respect for all life.
For more information about McDonald's, the McLibel Trial, multinationals, the campaign against McDonald's, and the other campaigns of London Greenpeace, please contact:
London Greenpeace / McLibel Support Campaign
5 Caledonian Road
London N1 9DX
Tel/Fax +44-(0)171 713 1269
US McLibel Support Campaign
PO Box 62
Craftsbury VT 05826-0062
Tel +1-802 586 9628
E-mail & Listserver: email@example.com
Please note: (1) New editions of the book "McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial" by the journalist John Vidal are available in the UK, USA, and some other countries (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details);
(2) A CD-ROM of the McSpotlight Internet site is now available (contact email@example.com for details);
(3) The exclusive documentary "McLibel: Two Worlds Collide" (lasting 52 minutes) is now available on video (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details).