McDonald's Censorship Strategy

The unfair and oppressive UK libel laws are clearly a threat hanging over those who would criticise rich and powerful individuals and organisations. But, in addition, when someone like Robert Maxwell or McDonald's take regular advantage of such laws they hope to be able to create a climate of intimidation - they aim not only to shut up specific critics but to 'make an example' of them, to put them out of business, or to force them to 'apologise'. Any apologies can then be used as propaganda to claim that McDonald's has been publicly proven right.

McDonald's have sent solicitor's threats or writs to a whole range of groups and individuals in the UK and elsewhere - often for minor or partial criticisms. Some have of course tried to avoid litigation by trying to 'negotiate' with the company. Some have just carried on, and the threat has come to nothing. Most however have backed down straight away, often publishing a 'retraction'. Some people have decided to fight and have prepared for a legal case - however, the sheer complexity, unfairness and expense during the pre-trial stages have been enough to force people to eventually back down, pay 'compensation' and huge costs, go broke, or even to pulp books, abandon plays or publications etc. In fact, the McLibel case is believed to be the first time in the UK that McDonald's has been taken 'all the way' and forced to defend aspects of its business practices in court.

The company has invoked the libel laws against national daily papers and TV channels, local press, a wide variety of green groups, animal rights groups, trades union organisations and other pressure groups, a theatre group, and individuals. This section includes just a few examples.

'McVegan' T-shirts

Primary school handbook

'Home Ecology' book

Jan 1996, USA (outside link)

T-shirts produced by Vegan Action in America. Used the McDonald's 'M' and altered their 'billions and billions served' slogan to 'billions and billions saved'. Vegan Action refused to apologise and McD's dropped out.
Full details of the case. (Outside link to Vegan Action's pages)

July 1995, Poland

'Biology 4 Man and Environment' by B.Klimuszko which linked McDonald's with rainforest destruction.

Letters from McD's Solicitors', extract from the book, apology from the publishers (written by McD's).

November 1994, UK

Environmental handbook by Karen Christensen which linked McDonald's with rainforest destruction, producing unnecessary waste, selling unhealthy food and homogenizing cultures.
Letter from the author, McDonald's Solicitors' letters, extract from the book.

'Scotch Fayre' play

'What's Wrong With McDonald's' factsheet

'Jungleburger' documentary

April 1991, Scotland

Play written by Steve Brown and Jenny Fraser. Set in a fictitious store, the play satires the fast food business and aims to 'highlight the appalling working conditions many young people have to endure in the fast food industry'. McDonald's is not mentioned anywhere in the script or title.
Letters from McD's solicitors and the authors, public statements.

The Play: Uncut, unedited and unapologetic.

1990, UK

6-page factsheet produced by London Greenpeace criticising most aspects of McD's business policies and practices.

Dave Morris and Helen Steel did not back down and apologise, but launched into the mammoth 5 year McLibel battle.

Everything you ever wanted to know, and a whole lot more.
(Link to Case section)

May 1990, UK

Award-winning German documentary which linked McDonald's with rainforest destruction.

Transmitted in the UK by Channel 4, who were subsequently sued by McDonald's and forced to apologise.

Channel 4's apology
VideoClip of the key moment
in the film to download.

TV3 Nightline (New Zealand)

Interview with Morrissey

Bournemouth Advertiser

The following is the transcript of Belinda Todd's retraction on Tuesday April 24, 1990.

Last night I implied that by not eating at McDonald's, Brazilian rainforests are saved. McDonald's has proved the claim to be inaccurate and Nightline apologises to McDonald's for any embarrassment.

Greenscene Magazine (UK);
Issue 6, 1990.

Interview of the ex-Smith in the Vegetarian Society's official magazine, covering animal torture aswell as rainforest depletion.

Correspondence between McDonald's and the Vegetarian Society.

12th October 1989.

Newspaper article reporting on the conditions suffered by animals at slaughter, citing a spokesperson from Animal Aid and a consultant report. The paper was forced to apologise.

Letter from McDonald's demanding a published apology, legal costs and an agreement not to publish same or similar articles in future.

'Today' newspaper article

Guardian newspaper article

'Working for Big Mac'

August 1989, UK

Article published in the Today newspaper, which linked McDonald's with rainforest destruction.

Joint statement between McD's and the defendants in the British High Court, aswell as the published apology.

June 1989

Article reporting on McDonald's demand for an undertaking from the Pretenders lead singer (Chrissie Hynde) not to ask fans to boycott and protest against the burger chain.


Report, September 1987

Very detailed and well-researched report written by the TransNationals Information Centre, which criticised working conditions in McDonald's stores. TIC were forced to close.

Full text and graphics of the report.

Guardian newspaper article


Leaflet & booklet

August 1987, UK

Newspaper article
('The Squalor Behind the Bright Fast Food Lights').
Written by Steven Percy and Harriet Lamb for The Guardian, it suggested that McDonald's operates a policy of exploiting young people by employing them in their restaurants in degrading conditions for excessively low wages.

Joint statement between McD's and the defendants in the British High Court..

October 1987 - Now

Several pieces pertaining to the threats issued upon Veggies Ltd over the publication of the 'What's Wrong With McDonald's' leaflet that they produced.

It is exactly the same as the contentious leaflet now at issue with an additional page on the slaughter of cattle and information on the work of the co-operative.

Court documents from McLibel trial

1986, Australia

Leaflets produced by various groups were published in 1986 - all with a message of protest Vs. McDonald's. The leaflet reproduced here is a wide-ranging criticism of McD's and their business practices. Containing cartoons aswell as text, the leaflet is a scathing attack on McD's corporate invasion. Though some of the data is now out of date it still carries a relevant message. The leaflet itself was banned, being available here for the first time since 1986 in its entirety.
Original booklet and press article.

The 'Nature' Broadcast

BBC, 26th April 1984

Television broadcast concerning the indiscriminate destruction of rain forest areas in central and south America. The programme doesn't mention McDonald's by name but in a sequence of shots various fast food logos are shown. The reporter comments:

"It doesn't seem that anyone can be blamed except you and me, the consumers".