McLibel Support Campaign

c/o London Greenpeace, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX.
Tel/fax 0171 713 1269
For Internet info:

- Autumn/Winter 1997 -
Trial Victory! ** Oct 12th - Day of Solidarity With McDonald's Workers

The marathon High Court libel trial brought by the $32 billion a year McDonald's Corporation against two London Greenpeace supporters ended in June 1997 after two & a half years of testimony - it was the longest case in English history. The trial was of particular importance to trade unionists and the labour movement.

McDONALD'S WITNESSES GRILLED - The Defendants, despite being denied Legal Aid and their right to a jury trial, grilled in the witness box over 20 McDonald's US and UK executives and managers about the exploitation of their workforce. They were forced to make many admissions and to reveal confidential information, conflicting with their carefully manufactured image. McDonald's previous strategy of trying to silence labour organisations with legal threats is therefore in tatters.

PAY & CONDITIONS - The judge in his verdict damned McDonald's core business practices ruling that the company did 'exploit children' with its advertising; deceptively promote their food as 'nutritious'; and was 'culpably responsible' for animal cruelty. He also ruled that "[McDonald's UK] does pay its workers low wages thereby helping to depress wages for workers in the catering trade in Britain". On employment conditions, most of the findings of fact were in the Defendants' favour, but the Judge then decided that he found certain forms of exploitation acceptable and so in his view the company had been 'libelled': "Despite the hard and sometimes noisy and hectic nature of the work, occasional long, extended shifts including late closes, inadequate and unreliable breaks during busy shifts, instances of autocratic management, lack of third party representation in cases of grievance and occasional requests to go home early without pay for the balance of the shift if business is slack, I do not judge the Plaintiffs' conditions of work, other than pay, to be generally 'bad', for its restaurant workforce." He did, however, judge that the practice of pressurising staff to go home if a store was quiet, without being paid for the balance of the shift "should not happen at all, and in my judgement it shows where the ultimate balance lies between saving a few pounds and interest of the individual". The evidence, he ruled, "has disclosed unsatisfactory aspects of McDonald's working conditions".

HOSTILITY TO TRADE UNIONS - Moving on to Unions, the Judge ruled that "[McDonald's] are strongly antipathetic to any idea of unionisation of crew in their restaurants". However, he then bizarrely ruled that the Defendants had libelled McDonald's because they had failed to prove that McDonald's "have a policy of preventing unionisation by getting rid of pro-Union workers". This is despite the evidence of McDonald's UK Vice President Sid Nicholson that employees "would not be allowed to carry out any overt union activity on McDonald's premises". Mr Nicholson had also said that 'to inform the Union about conditions inside the stores' would be a breach of the employee's contract (Crew Handbook), 'gross misconduct' and as such a 'summary sackable offence'. If that's not a 'policy' then we don't know what is!

During the trial there was DYNAMITE TESTIMONY ABOUT THE REALITY OF McJOBS - Two dozen ex-McDonald's workers had testified about the poor pay and conditions. Trade union officials and activists from around the world gave evidence about their experience of organising in the face of McDonald's hostility to trade unions. McDonald's can and have been beaten when workers get organised and have the back-up they need.

McDonald's have officially abandoned their attempt to suppress "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflets, or to recover any of their 10 million pounds costs spent on the trial. The Defendants are appealing over parts of the verdict which they didn't win, and for the abolition of unfair and oppressive libel laws. They are also planning to take the British government to the European Court of Human Rights. We are calling on you to support the McLibel Campaign (model resolution overleaf). So far the national executives of the NUJ and CWU, and over 200 Trades Councils and TU branches have pledged their support.

OCTOBER 12th: DAY OF SOLIDARITY WITH McDONALD'S WORKERS - To promote solidarity among all McDonald's workers wanting to fight for their rights, the McLibel Support Campaign is calling a third countrywide (and international) Day of Solidarity With McDonald's Workers on October 12th 1997. This is the fifth anniversary of the death of Mark Hopkins, a worker electrocuted at McDonald's Manchester store. McDonald's ex-workers are encouraged to demand back payments for overtime (pre-1992) which, as the Judge ruled, had been unlawfully withheld. WE CALL FOR LEAFLETING AT LOCAL STORES - leaflets from us at the address above (send donation). MANCHESTER - picket of McDonald's, 86 Market Street (organised by Mark Hopkins' parents), 12-2pm. LONDON - picket of McDonald's, Leicester Square, 12-2pm.

"I want every McDonald's worker to stand up for their rights, which is why I am backing this campaign 100%. In this way, Mark's death will not have been in vain." - Maureen Hopkins, Mark's mother, who is applying for a new inquest into her son's death.

'McSPOTLIGHT' WORLD-WIDE WEB SITE ( is an Internet-based library and campaigning tool, which makes available across the globe everything that McDonald's don't want the public to know. For example: * The Defence witness statements on Employment. * The suppressed booklet "Working For Big Mac". * The Debating Room - a global forum for discussion and debate about McDonald's - it has a workers' section where past and present employees (and others) discuss their experiences etc. * Plus information about campaigns, the trial (eg. official transcripts), company documents, the media, etc.

BOOK AND DOCUMENTARY - For more information about the case you could also get hold of the book "McLibel: Burger Culture On Trial" (pub. Macmillan) or the documentary on video (perfect for showings) "McLibel: Two World's Collide" (from 0171 681 0832).

Under questioning by the Defendants, McDonald's witnesses revealed the following (all quotes taken from official transcripts):

  • Paul Preston (McDonald's UK President) said he did not consider the current starting wage of 3.10 pounds an hour for crew members to be low pay, however, when asked, he refused to reveal his own salary. When asked why the company couldn't pay higher wages to crew members out of the $1 billion profits it made last year, he claimed that "people are paid a wage for the job they do", even though he had earlier agreed that crew members worked hard and their job was more physically demanding than his own. When asked if the company could use its $1 billion advertising budget to pay higher wages he stated that without advertising the company would have "no business".

  • Robert Beavers (US Senior Vice-President) admitted that McDonald's workers "have no guaranteed employment rights. They do not have guaranteed employment or guaranteed conditions of employment."

  • Beavers agreed that in the early 70's, at a time when trade unions were trying to organise in McDonald's in the US, the company set up a "flying squad" of experienced managers who were despatched to a store the same day that word came in of an attempt to organise it. Unions made no headway in the company.

  • Preston said that if employees wanted to then "they should join" a trade union. However, in three known incidents in the UK during the 1980's when staff had expressed an interest in joining trade unions, managers had immediately called Vice-President Sid Nicholson, their UK head of "Human Resources", to the stores to "talk" to the discontented staff. Sid Nicholson, in the witness box, admitted that staff "would not be allowed to carry out any overt union activity on McDonald's premises". However, he did recognise that "if, of course, there was a massive national drive" and a "very large proportion of McDonald's employees joined a union" and took industrial action, McDonald's "might be left with no short alternative but to negotiate".

  • In 1991/2, the Health & Safety Executive had made a confidential and extensive investigation into the safety of McDonald's employees' working conditions, producing a 70 page report with 23 recommendations for improvements. It was highly critical of McDonald's policy of getting staff to 'hustle', ie. work at speed. The Defendants referred to McDonald's Crew Training Programme which stated "When do you use hustle? (All the time)". The HSE report concluded: "the application of McDonald's hustle policy in many restaurants was, in effect, putting the service of the customer before the safety of employees'.

  • Jill Barnes, McDonald's UK Hygiene and Safety Officer, was challenged over a previously confidential internal report into the death by electrocution of Mark Hopkins in a Manchester store on October 12th 1992. It had catalogued a number of company failures and problems, and had made the damning conclusion: "Safety is not seen as being important at store level". The secret report was never shown to the inquest jury.

    Six former employees from the Colchester branch of McDonald's (from crew members up to the Store Manager) gave evidence for the Defence. The Colchester branch was made 'Store of the Year' by McDonald's in 1987. The ex-employees laid bare the reality of McDonald's unethical, illegal and oppressive working practices: watering down products, working double shifts, lack of proper breaks, illegal hours worked by young staff, cutting labour costs to the bone, and the fiddling of time cards. The testimony of Simon Gibney (former Assistant Manager) was reported under the front page national newspaper headline "What a McRipoff" after he told how supervisors ordered managers and crew members to water down products (milkshakes, ketchup, etc.). Gibney also said that on "at least two occasions" sewage came flooding up from the floor vents in the kitchen. The workers were forced to stand on bun trays to keep above the rising sewage while continuing to prepare food. At one time, workers organised a "McDonald's Freedom Fighters" group, but faced sackings and harassment. And this was 'Store of the Year'

  • a model store, according to the company. These experiences were echoed by ex-employees from numerous other stores.

    One of the many union activists from abroad was an organiser of the 1994 union drive at McDonald's Ontario, Canada, where management were eventually successful in suppressing the union, but were temporarily thrown onto the defensive. He stated to the court: "The vast changes that occurred during the union drive have come full about and things have returned to the slave-like working conditions that crew must endure every single shift that they work."


  • Please pass the resolution and fill in the tear-off slip below. Please circulate details widely (we can provide copies of further literature about McDonald's). Support the Oct 12th Day of Solidarity With McDonald's Workers (this year part of a Global Week of Action Against McDonald's) - organise local protests outside McDonald's stores (special leaflets to be handed to McDonald's workers are available on request/donation). General 'What's Wrong With McDonald's' leaflets are also available

  • about 2.5 million of which have been handed out in the UK alone since 1990, and the distribution continues to grow.


  • This branch/organisation recognises the poor working conditions at McDonald's and their hostility to Trade Unionism, and supports the right of their staff to organise and take industrial action; protests against the company's futile attempts to suppress criticism, in particular the use of libel laws as censorship; and resolves: (1) to back the McLibel Support Campaign in its protests, (2) to support the October 12th Day of Solidarity With McDonald's Workers, and (3) to donate ________ pounds.

    I/We back the McLibel Support Campaign.

    Organisation: ........................................................................................................................................
    Name: ................................................................. Position: .................................................................
    Address: ................................................................................................................................................
    ................................................................................. Tel: (W).............................(H).............................

    I/We enclose a donation: ......... (cheques to 'McLibel Support Campaign')

    Return to:
    McLibel Support Campaign, c/o 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX
    Tel/Fax 0171 713 1269.