Arkangel presents an update on the mammoth libel action brought by the $26 billion a year McDonald's against two supporters of London Greenpeace, Helen Steel and Dave Morris. In December 1995, it became the longest civil case in British history. For 8 months, the evidence in court was focused on the pay and conditions of McDonald's workers, and the company's hostility to trade unions. Helen and Dave called over 30 ex-employees of McDonald's together with trade union officials and activists from around the world. The section of the trial on the connections between McDonald's and rainforest destruction (particularly in Central and South America) began in February 1996.
Five former employees from the Colchester branch of McDonald's (from crew members up to the Store Manager) gave evidence for Helen and Dave. 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 amid sewage, 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 headline "What a McRipoif" 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. The flooding, Gibney said, resulted from the management's refusal to replace fat filtering equipment. Consequently, they were forced to pour large quantities of fat down the drains which blocked them. Siamak Alimi, former crew member, told of the high pressure of work at McDonald's, long hours (including 20 hour shifts) with few breaks, low pay, and of how there were threats of the sack for joining a union or protesting against in-store conditions.
These experiences were echoed by ex-employees from numerous other stores. Andrew Cranna, former Assistant Manager of the West Ealing branch, testified that employees were afraid to criticise due to fear of "recriminations", that people could be sent home early to save money, that "any active member of a union will not be tolerated", that staff were "made to feel they were fully expendable" and if they fell out of favour would be discriminated against until they quit. Iain Whittle (a crew member at the Sutton store in the 1980's) described McDonald's as 'blatantly racist" with Asian staff given jobs such as cleaning the toilets and picking up litter. "Managers would compete to see who could run the lowest staffed shift and make the most money for the company," Whittle said. Strict adherence to company rules was impossible because of poor staffing levels, and the managers' obsession with profit levels sometimes lead to the sale of under-cooked and unhygienic food.
France - Hassen Lamti (a current McDonald's crew member in Lyon and a trade union rep) related how five McDonald's managers were arrested for trying to rig union elections in July 1994; how he was harassed for union activity - amongst other things, an attempt was made to frame him for armed robbery, and McDonald's offered him a bribe if he renounced the union: and how the union branch, now established, has so far won over 20 court judgments against the company to stop harassment and illegal business practices.
Ireland - Anne Casey and Sean Mrozek (former McDonald's workers and union activists from the historic, successful 1979 McDonald's strike for union recognition at two stores in Dublin) gave evidence. They told how there was discontent over low pay and poor conditions. Earlier, Michael Mehigan (the owner of McDonald's stores in Ireland since 1978 said the company had refused to recognise the union because "we didn't want to lose control of our business". Casey and Mrozek told how after the bitter, seven month strike ended with a labour court ruling that McDonald's should recognise the union, the main union activists were nevertheless sacked or otherwise victimised for union activity.
Canada - Sarah Inglis, a Canadian worker, gave evidence. At the age of 16, she signed up a majority of the workers in her McDonald's store to a union. In response, managers organised a bizarre and nationally controversial anti-union campaign, which included creating a climate of fear against pro-union staff, getting some of the workers in that store (the majority of whom were under 18 to lie outside in the snow forming the word 'NO' (to unions), putting on special anti-union video and slide shows, and temporarily allowing improved conditions in the run-up to an unsuccessfiil secret ballot in the store for union recognition. Afterwards, the court heard, according to the evidence of Defence witness Joel Henderson (pro-union crew member at the store), that '"things have returned to the slave like working conditions that crew must endure every single shift that they work".
Maureen Hopkins (Mark's mother) organised a picket at the Arndale Centre store which 40 people attended. The discovery of the Report and other documents also not shown to the inquest jury has lead the Hopkins' family to demand that a new inquest be held. Legal action is now being prepared.
"I think the Report should have been put before the inquest. It may have made a difference. It was horrendous to go to the Arndale McDonald's but I needed to do it in Mark's memory. I've always known there was something wrong with the outcome of the inquest into my son's death. We haven't got peace of mind and Mark can't rest in peace while this new evidence, which has come to light during the libel trial, has not been seriously investigated. I won't give up. We want a new inquest. We're not bitter against the company but we want justice for our son and I won't rest until we get it." - Maureen Hopkins
Ray Cesca (Director of Global Purchasing of the McDonald's Corporation) gave evidence that he had drafted McDonald's rainforest policy statement in 1989 along with another company executive. He claimed that the policy had existed 'verbally' since McDonald's opened its first store in 1955. He said that "'recently deforested rainforest' means since we decided to open a restaurant in a specific country"' and agreed with Mr. Rampton that "in theory, some rainforest might be cut down a year or six months before [McDonald's] made that decision, cattle put on it, and [McDonald's] could, in theory, take cattle from that land". Previously, the company has defined "recently deforested" as "a significant number of years", "within 10 years" (prior to 1989) and "within 25 years" (since 1989).
Giving evidence about Costa Rica, Mr. Cesca said "McDonald's, opened the first of its restaurants in Costa Rica in December 1970" and that they had been supplied with meat by Coop Montecillos since that time. "This meat comes from ranches in areas which were deforested in the 1950's and early 1960's."
McDonald's claims it has a policy in the USA of only using US-produced beef. The Sales Director of Coop Montecillos (the supplier of beef to McDonald's stores in Costa Rica) stated in a filmed interview in 1984 (shown in court): "We export meat to the US, 70% of the meat goes to food production outlets such as restaurant chains like McDonald's..." "We supply McDonald's and Burger King - they buy our meat. (From the film 'Jungleburger'.)
McDonald's Brazilian stores (now numbering 200) are supplied by Braslo Ltd. with beef from cattle raised in regions including Mato Grosso do Sul, Goias, Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo. Mr. Cesca was questioned about land disputes in some of these states, particularly Mato Grosso do Sul, where indigenous people and peasant farmers have been evicted from their land to make way for cattle ranching. He denied knowledge of any land disputes in these regions but admitted that the company had not looked into this. Displacement of small farmers has been recognised by McDonald's to be a major cause of rainforest destruction as they often have little alternative but to move into the Amazon forest regions to seek new land (by cutting down trees). McDonald's at one time were supplied by a meat plant at Cuiba which is inside the official Amazon region and virtually bordering deforested rainforest areas. Company documents revealed previous dealings with Anglo beef, who also had two plants within the official Amazon region.
Defence witnesses, giving evidence shortly, will include: Charles Secrett (Director of Friends of the Earth), an expert on Brazilian Amazon deforestation, experts on Guatemala & Costa Rica, and Howard Lyman (former cattle rancher of 20 years experience. from Montana USA).
McSpotlight, an on-line interactive library of information and communication, makes available across the globe everything that McDonald's don't want the public to know. It is one of the most comprehensive sources of information on a multinational corporation ever assembled.
Compiled by a team of volunteers in 14 countries, some of the highlights of McSpotlight are:
McSpotlight was accessed a million times in its first month.
The McLibel Defendants need thousands of pounds to pay for the vital daily transcripts (withheld by McDonald's) and to pay the fares of their witnesses and administration costs. They are entirely dependent on donations from members of the public to iund their Defence.
Please send donations and/or requests for information to:
McLibel Support Campaign, 5 Caledonian Road London N1 9DX UK. Tel/Fax 0171 713 1269.
(Cheques to 'McLibel Support Campaign')