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03/05/00 . - . Financial Times . UK  
 
McDonald's eager for talks with critics  
 
TARGET FAST FOOD CHAIN 'MISUNDERSTOOD' BY PROTEST GROUPS  

McDonald's, which had a branch destroyed by demonstrators in London on Monday, said it would welcome dialogue with its critics who consider it a symbol of global capitalism.

Although the fast-food chain says it deplores the "damage and violence" inflicted on its Whitehall outlet, it is anxious to combat its status as a focus for environmentalists, left-wing groups and animal rights activists.

Mike Love, of McDonald's, admitted its burger bars were an easy target for activists. "We are such a familiar face on the high street with such a recognisable brand," he said.

A McDonald's outlet was also damaged in last June's anti-capitalist riots in London, and a bomb attack - believed to have been committed by opponents of globalisation - killed a woman employee in France last month.

Mr Love said the company is misunderstood by its critics. "McDonald's is not the global monster these people think it is. In fact, it is run on a very local scale in each country where it is present. A quarter of restaurants are owned and run by franchisees.

"Most food sold in UK McDonald's is sourced in the UK. We have more than 6,000 suppliers in this country and employ 70,000 people," he said.

But pressure groups, which claim the company spends Dollars 2bn (1.2bn) a year promoting its image, dismiss this defence. McSpotlight, an anti-McDonald's web site, accuses the company of cruelty to animals, damage to the environment and exploitation of its workers.

Whereas in the past McDonald's was renowned for stamping out criticism of this kind, it is now showing a willingness to listen.

It has already held meetings with the animal welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming, which lobbied it on its choice of egg and meat suppliers.

Justin Wilkes, a spokesman for the group, which campaigns for better treatment of animals in the food industry, said that as a result of its pressure, 90 per cent of the eggs used by McDonald's in the UK are now free-range.

This conciliatory tactic appears to mark a sea-change in McDonald's reaction to criticism after the two-and-a-half-year McLibel Trial - the longest trial in English legal history - when McDonald's accused two environmentalists of libelling the company.

Mr Love said the fast-food outlet in Whitehall would be reopened later this week after repairs had been completed. No figure has yet been put on the cost of damage.

Although only a small minority of the 4,000 protesters attending the rally were involved in the attack, most onlookers applauded as the burger bar was gutted and cheered when the fast food chain's "golden arches" sign was ripped down.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited  
 
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