Burger bashers

The DIY activists who have taken on mighty McDonald's.

By Simon Rogers

The Big Issue, February 13 1996

If Ronald McDonald isn't choking on his Big Mac yet, he soon will be. In the next two weeks, the multinational US corporation behind the cosy clown image will face its most damaging allegation yet issued in court; that it deliberately destroyed whole sections of the Brazilian rainforest.

DIY activists Dave Morris and Helen Steel have already made legal history. Five years ago they were sued for handing out leaflets accusing the fast-food chain of exploiting it workers and producing un-nutritious junk food. With the two defending themselves and preparing their case on the Tube journey to court, the 'McLibel' case has already become the longest civil libel case in British history.

Ex-postman Dave, aged 41, says he and Helen have turned the tables on the giant company and is expecting the next part of the trial to be vital for their defence. "We are unearthing an enormous amount of information about the business operations of McDonald's that it would prefer to remain buried." Soon they will be hauling McDonald's director of global purchasing Ray Cesca onto the witness stand to answer the accusation that McDonald's used beef from cattle raised on recently de-forested land.

They have already got one ex-McDonald's employee testifying that staff were forced to work as sewage seeped out of the kitchen floor. And the McLibel 2 have also forced the company to admit to targeting children in its advertising campaigns which it had always denied.

Their legal advisor, lawyer Mark Stephens of the media law firm Stephens Innocent, says they are "doing incredibly well. They're having to act as clients, solicitors and barristers - it's amazing that they're still standing."

The case has clearly taken a huge personal toll on Helen, 30, a former gardener, and single father Dave, who says he has not been able to pay as much attention to his son as he would have liked. Win or lose they're prepared for the next year. "There're plenty of other battles to be fought and won. We want to see the world as a less exploitative place," says Dave.

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