McLibel - our verdict

by Dan Mills

Festival Eye; Summer 1997

The McLibel Trial is finally drawing to a close, after two years of testimony and eight weeks of closing speeches.

"The most expensive and disastrous public relations exercise ever mounted by a multinational company," according to one commentator. All that's left now is a judge's personal verdict, since British 'justice' dented the defendants a jury trial.

The trial, the longest in English history, was a Goliath versus David battle between the $30 billion-a-year McDonalds Corporation and campaigners Helen Steel and Dave Morris. The fastfood giant attempted to silence its critics by suing Helen & Dave for libel, over a factsheet called What's Wrong With McDonalds? Euerything They Don't Want You To Know, produced by London Greenpeace in 1986.

Since there is no right to Legal Aid in libel cases, Helen and Dave have represented themselves against McDonalds's team of top libel lawyers. For perhaps the first time ever, a multinational has effectvely been put on trial over its business practices promotion of junk food, exploitation of workers and animals, advertising to children, and damage to the environment.

McWitness McQuotes

180 witnesses from the UK and abroad have given evidence, including senior executives and private investigators hired by McDonalds to infiltrate London Greenpeace.

McDonalds's witnesses often said ridiculous things in the witness box, in a vain attempt to conceal the truth or to justify the way the company operates, and the effect those operations have around the world.

David Green (Head of McDonalds US Marketing) said "McDonalds's food is nutritious" and "healthy." When asked what the company means by "nutribous," he said it "provides nutrients and can be a part of a healthy balanced diet." He admitted this could also apply to candy. When asked if Coca Cola is 'nutritious' he agreed, saying it is "providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet"!

In fact, an internal company memo says. "We don't sell nutrition and people don't come to McDonalds for nutrition."

Incredibly, Paul Preston (McDonalds UK President) claimed that the character Ronald McDonald is intended not to "sell food" to children, but to promote the "McDonalds experience."

But an extract from the corporation's confidential Operations Manual was read out: "Ronald loves McDonalds and McDonalds's food. And so do children, because they love Ronald. Remember, children exert a phenomenal influence when it comes tc restaurant selection. This means you should do everything you can to appeal to children's love for Ronald and McDonalds."

McDonalds's annual advertising and promotions budget worldwide is $2 billion.

It was revealed in court that Geoffrey Giuliano (a Ronald McDonald actor in the '80s) had quit and publicly apologised for brainwashing youngsters."

McFacts? McArse!

McDonalds distributed 'McFact' cards throughout the UK, publicising a scheme to recycle polystyrene waste but at just four stores. Customers there put the packaging into a separate bin "for recycling into such things as plant pots and coat hangers." But Ed Oakley (Purchasing Officer) admitted that the company had not recycled any of the waste and in fact the polystyrene was dumped!

Sue Branford, a Brazil expert testifying for the defendants, has visited regions in Goias State where McDonalds have admitted that they have obtained (and still obtain) beef for their two hundred Brazilian stores.

In the early 70s it was an area of Amazonian tropical rainforest. From then unb the mid 80s, Ms Branford witnessed it being cleared and burned for cattle ranching, with indigenous people being forced out.

Branford's evidence was corroborated by Prof Hecht of UCLA, who said, "I am certain that a substantial proportion of cattle supplied to Cuiaba meat plants and to Goias [which still supplies beef for McDonalds] for the last twenty years up 'till now, would have been cattle from rainforest areas."

Sid Nicholson (UK Vice President) admitted that in the late 80s McDonalds consistently set their starting rates for crew employees "either exactly the same as the minimum rates of pay set by the Wages Council, or just a few pence over them."

He agreed that for crew aged 21 or over the company "couldn't actually pay any lower wages without falling foul of the law." However he also said, "I do not accept that McDonalds's crew are low paid."

Dr Neville Gregory, a McDonalds expert witness, said McDonalds's egg suppliers keep chickens in battery cages, five chickens ta a cage, with less than a square foot per bird, and with no freedom of movement and no access to fresh air or sunshine.

Ed Oakley said the company had thought about switching to free range eggs; but, not only are battery eggs "fifty per cent cheaper," he claimed. "hens kent in batteries are better cared for." He said battery cages are "pretty comfortable."

Its clear that McDonalds's efforts to silence and intimidate its critics have completely backfired. Over two million What's Wrong With McDonalds? Ieaflets have been handed out to the public in the UK alone, and thousands of people have pledged to continue circulating the leaflets whatever the judgment.

Protests and campaigns against McDonalds continue in over 24 countries. And there is an internet site called McSpotlight, an on-line library and campaigning tool, which makes available across the globe everything McDonalds doesn't want the public to know, including the complete trial transcripts. McSpotlight has been accessed nine million times since its launch last year.


The McLibel Campaign is calling on people to 'Adopta-Store' and assist in the coordinated leaflehog of all 750 UK McDonalds outlets on 'Victory Day,' the Saturday after the verdict. The aim is to have a campaigner or group associated with every branch. 'Adopt-a-Store' forms can be obtained from the address below.

Helen and Dave are set to pursue their case to the European Court, to try and disallow corporations using the libel laws to gag criticism.

Please send donations or requests for information to:
McLibel Support Campaign 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX
Tel/Fax: 0171713 1269

Back to Media Page

Press Index