McLibel: corporate crimes on trial

STEVE BYRNE

Fight Racism Fight Imperialism; June / July 1997

Whatever decision Mr Justice Bell finally arrives at, it is clear that the 'McLibel Trial', which ends this summer, has been a spectacular blow to McDonald's global strategy of propaganda and censorship.

The trial, brought by the $30 billion-a-year corporation against London Greenpeace members Helen Steel and Dave Morris, has been a resounding success for all critics of the food industry and of multinational corporations in general. Transcripts of the entire case (about 19,000 pages so far) are now available to the public, as well as a book by Guardian journalist John Vidal. A reconstruction drama and TV documentary will be completed shortly. Over two million copies of the leaflet, 'What's wrong with McDonald's?', which the trial aimed to suppress, have been handed out since the action started, and protests and campaigns against McDonald's continue to grow in over 24 countries: from Australia where residents stopped a new store from opening; to Bermuda where the House of Assembly is considering a bill which will ban all fast food stores; to the US where sales are declining despite $200m promotion of new products. The internet site 'McSpotlight', which makes available across the globe 10,000 separate files containing everything McDonald's doesn't want the public to know, has been accessed almost , 9 million times since its launch in February 1996. And, in addi:tion to numerous protests throughout the trial, an international Victory Day is planned for the Saturday after Mr Bell finally reaches his verdict (the issues were deemed 'too complicated' to allow the defendants a trial by jury). 384 of 750 UK stores have already been 'adopted' by local activists. FRFI supporters will be picketing the Seven Sisters' Road branch in north London and branches in other parts of the country. Leave a contact number on 01718371688 to join us.

'The Corporation spends $2 billion each year on advertising and promotions - our trial has shown the huge contrast between their glossy image and the reality. Whatever the verdict, the need to scrutinise and challenge multinationals has never been greater.' (McLibel defendants)

The case continues
If the verdict goes against them, the defendants intend to appeal, and then, if necessary, take the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights. They have submitted that English libel law is oppressive and unfair, that multinational corporations should not be able to use libel laws against their critics. They have also submitted that the McLibel case was an abuse of procedure and of public rights, particularly the denial of legal aid and a jury trial, that it was beyond all precedent, and that there was 'an overriding imperative for decisions to be made to protect the public interest'. Outrageously, McDonald's has asked the Judge to order the defendants (total joint income less than 7,500 pa) to pay 80,000120,000 damages if it wins the case. This is despite repeated claims that fit has never been [McDonald's] intention to seek damages'. Paul Preston, their UK President was confronted with the untrue press releases to this effect. He was asked, 'But you are not concerned enough to actually do something to stop the dissemination of false information by McDonald's?', to which he replied 'Not at present, no'. To this day the company continues to distribute these inaccurate press releases. In their counterclaim, the defendants are seeking damages for libel in the press releases and the 300,000 defamatory leaflets produced by the company. If damages are awarded against them, Steel and Morris also intend to sue the three private investigators who were hired by McDonald's to spy on them. In addition to all this, the defendants are urging all UK McDonald's employees who worked overtime before 1992 to seek advice, to write to the company demanding payment, or to sue the company. This follows the revelation in court that 'for some workers, at sometimes, their overall pay. . . was less than their statutory entitlement'. One former worker has already begun proceedings.

McLibel Support Campaign: 0171 713 1269. McSpoUight Websight: http://www.mcspotlight.org/ - 'the final nail in the coffin of McDonald's global censorship strategy.'

McLibel highlights

Rainforests: McDonald's are still obtaining beef for their stores in Brazil from ranches situated on recently-cleared rainforest land (testimony of experts Branford and Hecht, based on facts supplied by McDonald's suppliers in Brazil).

Litter: McDonald's witness, the Director-General of the Tidy Britain Group, admitted that McDonald's were in the top '1 or 2% of companies' whose products end up as litter.

Packaging: McDonald's admitted that the polystyrene packaging collected during a nationally-publicised UK scheme 'for recycling into such things as plant pots' was in fact 'clumped' (testimony of Ed Oakley, Vice President of McDonald's UK)

Nutrition: a McDonald's internal memo (1986) was read out: 'We can't really address or defend nutrition. We don't sell nutrition and people don't come to McDonald's for nutrition'.

Food safety: McDonald's have admitted that they were responsible for an outbreak of E-coli 0157 food poisoning in the USA in 1982, and in Preston (UK) in 1991, in which people suffered serious kidney failure.

Employment rights: two dozen ex-McDonald's workers testified about the poor pay and conditions; trade unionists from around the world gave evidence about organising in the face of McDonald's hostility to trade unions. McDonald's admitted having paid some UK staff under the statutory minimum and that employees 'would not be allowed to carry out any overt union activity on McDonald's premises'.


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