6th - 16th February 1996

Each week McSpotlight will be bringing you a brief report on the latest developments in the McLibel case.

Employment witnesses

  • On Tuesday 6 February two witnesses from Colchester gave evidence on McDonald's working practices and the conditions in its restaurants.

    Kevin Harrison worked in 1986/7 at McDonald's branches in Colchester and Ipswich as an assistant manager. Pressure to reduce costs all round led to the secret cutting of food servings and using out of date food. He criticised managers'use of 'hustle' to get work speeded up. 'McDonald's', he stated,'is a very pressurised environment, and nowhere else are you expected to work at that level for such long periods of time'. He complained that managers were encouraged to use their power over work schedules to discriminate and to foster compliance among crew. Mr Harrison told the court that an authoritarian 'them and us' attitude was created between crew and managers, which aimed to exploit crew members wherever possible. He left due to 'the job, the hours and mounting dissatisfaction with the company philosophy in general.'

    Kate Harrison then told the court about the harsh reality and the pressure of working at 5 different McDonalds' stores, stating that crew members were often denied breaks in busy periods, and sometimes worked whole shifts without a break. At three of the stores she witnessed under-18s working illegal hours. She recalled 2 occasions when sewage came up out of the drains into the kitchen but staff had to continue preparing and cooking food.

    Food poisoning witness

  • On Friday 10 February Marja Hovi gave evidence for the defence on the hygiene concerns surrounding McDonald's food. She worked in 1994 as an experienced Official Veterinary Surgeon at Alec Jarret Ltd - an abbatoir that supplied McKey Foods, McDonald's sole supplier of hamburgers. She explained how she'd how she'd been especially brought in by the local authority to sort out shortcomings at the slaughterhouse.

    She described several discrepancies between official regulations and actual practice at the plant, including poor hygiene, improper inspection and higher than required temperatures - all of which could contribute to contamination and bacterial growth in McDonald's beefburgers. She was dismissed after refusing to bow to pressure to sign export certificates for the slaughterhouse's beef to verify (without the necessary back-up documents) it as coming from herds which had been 'BSE-free' for at least 6 years (as required by Europe).

  • Monday 12th February - The defendants lodged an Appeal against Mr Justice Bell's ruling on his interpretation of the meaning of the nutrition section of the London Greenpeace Factsheet. The judge has asked the Court of Appeal to expedite the defendants' application and a full Appeal hearing is expected soon. This followed over a year of controversy in court over the way McDonald's had first lost the arguments over the evidence of links between diet and disease and had then proceeded to use legal tricks to continually shift the goalposts on this issue. The defendants now argue: firstly that McDonald's have backtracked on a previous admission that a high fat diet is causally linked to heart disease, secondly that the meaning of the Factsheet is clear and not defamatory, and thirdly that publications are entitled to contain satirical cartoons and banner headlines without them being taken literally.