26th March, 1997

5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX, UK.

Tel/Fax +44-(0)171 713 1269



Campaigners prepare for international Victory Day mass leafletting, whatever the verdict.

Highlights include:

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After 25 months of testimony and a further 8 weeks of Closing Speeches, the McLibel Trial, described by leading QC Michael Mansfield as the 'Trial of the Century', is finally drawing to a close. Submissions were completed on 13th December 1996, so now all that remains of the trial is for Mr Justice Bell, having denied the Defendants a jury, to give his personal verdict (which could be anytime from May).

The McLibel Defendants - Helen Steel (31) & Dave Morris (43) - are available for interviews. They believe that the evidence in the trial has fully vindicated McDonald's critics.


The McLibel Support Campaign is calling an international Victory Day of Action on the Saturday after the verdict to demonstrate McDonald's failure to censor alternative views and information. Thousands of people around the world have pledged to leaflet outside their local stores on that day and beyond, whatever the verdict in the trial. It is expected that a large majority of McDonald's 750 UK stores will be leafletted (384 have already been 'adopted' by local campaigners) in a display of solidarity with the McLibel Defendants and show of conviction that all the criticisms in the "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflets are true and have been proved to be so in the trial (often by McDonald's own witnesses and documents). Also to be handed out will be the special leaflet for kids: "What's Wrong With Ronald McDonald?" to help build up the growing "Kids Against McDonald's" Network.

McDonald's are suing Steel & Morris for alleged libel over a 6-sided factsheet produced in the mid 80's by London Greenpeace, entitled "What's Wrong With McDonald's? - Everything they don't want you to know". The factsheet and later versions have now possibly become the most widely known and distributed protest leaflet in history. Over 2 million leaflets have already been handed out to the public in the UK alone since writs were served on the Defendants, and it is distributed in dozens of other countries. Every phrase in the current "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflet has now been fully referenced to documentary evidence and oral testimony in the McLibel Trial, mostly from McDonald's own sources. (The Referenced Leaflet is available from the McLibel Campaign.)

The Defendants today stated: "Having been denied a jury trial, we believe that the world's public are in effect the wider jury. Campaigners are providing a valuable public service in ensuring that people everywhere continue to hear an alternative point of view to that put out by McDonald's, and therefore are able to judge for themselves. The Corporation spends $2 billion each year on advertising and promotions - our trial has shown the huge contrast between their glossy image and the reality. Whatever the verdict, the need to scrutinise and challenge multinationals has never before been greater and so the campaign is certain to continue to grow."


Since its launch on the 16th Feb 1996, the 'McSpotlight' Internet site has been the focus of international media attention (including front page of USA Today). It has been accessed nearly 9 million times, and recently quadrupled in size with the addition of all 313 days of the official court transcripts, a historically unprecedented move. Now accessible are an estimated 19,000 pages (around 50 megabytes of data) of often riveting testimony (including the grilling of top Corporate executives) and controversial legal arguments. Whatever the judge's personal verdict, the public will have access to full information to enable them to judge for themselves - exactly the reason why McSpotlight was created. There is nothing McDonald's can do to prevent the public's right of access to this material - McSpotlight is here to stay as a public resource, uncensored and unstoppable, the final nail in the coffin of McDonald's global censorship strategy.


As part of their final legal arguments, the McLibel Defendants submitted that UK libel laws in general - and in this case in particular - are oppressive and unfair. They argued that multinational corporations, which wield huge power and influence over the lives of ordinary people, should not be able to use libel laws against their critics, as it is of vital public importance that matters which affect peoples lives and health are areas of free, uninhibited public debate. They cited a House of Lords judgment in 1993 which admitted that the threat of a libel writ has a "chilling effect on freedom of speech" and therefore ruled that it is in the public interest that governmental bodies no longer be allowed to sue for libel. So why should multinational corporations? They are often more powerful than local or national governments, and even less accountable.

The Defendants also cited recent developments in European laws and existing US laws which would in general debar a similar libel case. They submitted that the McLibel case was an abuse of procedure and of public rights, particularly the denial of Legal Aid and a jury trial, that it was beyond all precedent, and that there was "an overriding imperative for decisions to be made to protect the public interest". If the verdict goes against them, the Defendants intend to appeal, and then if necessary take the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over oppressive UK libel laws.


Outrageously, the $30 billion a year McDonald's Corporation has asked the Judge to order the Defendants (total joint income less than 7,500 pounds p.a.) to pay 80-120,000 pounds damages to the company for the criticisms made in the London Greenpeace factsheet (if McDonald's wins the case). This is despite repeated claims by the company to the media, members of Parliament and the public during the course of the trial that "it has never been [McDonald's] intention to seek damages....from the Defendants". McDonald's obviously have no compunction about lying to the public when it suits their purposes. Indeed, their UK President admitted as much during cross examination by the Defendants on day 246 of the trial. Paul Preston said he was 'concerned' that the company's press releases about the McLibel Trial contained 'errors', he was then asked "But you are not concerned enough to actually do something to stop the dissemination of false information by McDonald's?", to which he replied "Not at present, no". To this day the company continues to distribute the same inaccurate press releases to the media. (Proof of McDonald's lies on the damages issue is available on request.)

The Defendants are seeking damages in their counterclaim against McDonald's UK for libel in the Press Releases and 300,000 defamatory leaflets produced by the company. Both sides are claiming costs for the claim and counterclaim (McDonald's costs have been estimated to total 5 - 10 million pounds).


The McLibel Support Campaign has no illusions about British 'justice'. It is clear that libel laws are in place to protect the interests of the rich and powerful and preserve the status quo. During their trial, the McLibel Defendants went to the Court of Appeal a number of times to challenge, unsuccessfully, legal judgments made against them by Mr Justice Bell, the trial judge. Following an Appeal hearing on 2nd April 1996, the Defendants wrote to the Lord Chancellor to express their concern that their appeal had been pre-judged - a copy of the Appeal Courts' draft 'ruling' (prepared before the hearing had taken place) had mistakenly been handed to the Defendants.

The Lord Chancellor replied on 26th July 1996. He confirmed that the documents "were Lord Justice Hirst's note" and continued "Judges often have notes to refer to, which they prepare to help them when giving their judgment". How can it be fair for a Judge to make any kind of note on what the judgment will be when they have not heard any argument from the appellants? Lord Justice Hirst's 'notes' were read out virtually word for word when he gave his judgment.

In the face of oppressive libel laws, the denial of Legal Aid and a jury, and as a result of this and other judgments, the Defendants believe that their battle to defend themselves and the right to criticise multinationals must be taken directly to the public.

Even if McDonald's 'win' in the courts, they will in any event lose on the streets.


During the trial, McDonald's admitted that at least seven private investigators were hired to infiltrate London Greenpeace, and that one or more were present at nearly all weekly meetings between October 1989 to March 1991. Five of these spies gave evidence in the trial, one of them as a witness for the Defence. Three admitted they had distributed the London Greenpeace Factsheet which is the subject of the libel action. In the light of this, the Defendants intend (if they lose the case and have damages awarded against them) to sue those three investigators for damages.


During the trial there was controversy over McDonald's non-payment of UK minimum statutory overtime rates (applicable up to 1992). McDonald's finally admitted in their closing submissions that it was "likely...that for some workers, at some times, their overall pay...was less than their statutory entitlement". The judge calculated that one Defence witness, former worker Siamak Alimi, had been underpaid and was owed 175 pounds, allowing for 'compound interest'. As a result, Mr Alimi has written to McDonald's this week to demand the money he's owed. Contrary to what many had been told by the company at the time, all employees on the basic starting wage were entitled to additional overtime minimum rates up to 1986, and those over 21 were entitled up till 1992. The Defendants are urging all former UK employees who worked overtime before 1992 to seek advice, to write to the company demanding payment, or to sue the company.


Already facing the humiliation of declining sales in the US (despite spending $200m promoting new products), McDonald's this month found itself being attacked from all sides in disputes which have great potential to spread. At a store in St-Hubert (Quebec, Canada), 82% of the workers (fed up with the poor pay and conditions) have joined the Teamsters union. Although there have been a number of attempts to unionise in the past, this is the first time that unionisation looks likely to succeed and it could spread to other stores.

Meanwhile, local residents in the beautiful Blue Mountains (NSW, Australia) have successfully resisted McDonald's plans to open a store at Katoomba. After receiving 5,000 letters of objection to the proposal and only 15 in support, the local council rejected the plans and McDonald's have decided not to appeal against the decision.

Also, McDonald's attempts to halt its declining US sales are generating opposition from many of its franchisees (over 80% of US stores are franchises). The company is trying to force the franchisees to reduce the price of a Big Mac from $1.90 to a loss-making 55 cents, and to give free sandwich vouchers to any customers not served within 55 seconds.

Elsewhere, the Bermudan premier, Dr David Saul, announced his resignation on March 19th following uproar in the country at his unpopular decision to allow former Premier Sir John Swan to operate a number of McDonald's franchises on the island. Strong opposition by rebel members of Dr Saul's own party (the UBP) pushed a bill through the 'House of Assembly' called the 'Prohibited Restaurant Bill' banning McDonald's and other fast food stores in Bermuda. The bill has yet to be ratified by the Senate - a decision is expected in late June.


Before Mr Justice Bell makes his ruling, Macmillan will publish the book McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial (cost: 15.99 pounds) by John Vidal (a Guardian journalist). It was originally written with Helen Steel and Dave Morris as joint authors, but rewritten after Macmillan (and their libel lawyers) demanded substantial changes and the sidelining of the Defendants, fearing a writ from McDonald's despite the book's accuracy. A reconstruction drama is being filmed for UK Channel 4 and is expected to be shown after the verdict. A definitive TV documentary is also currently in production, and the producers have available for sale to the media a wide range of relevant footage filmed and collected throughout the trial (contact One Off Productions: Tel/Fax +44 (0)171 681 0832 or E-mail


The McLibel Trial began on 28th June 1994 and became the longest trial in English history in November 1996. The main reason that the case has taken so long is because McDonald's is alleging that every criticism in the Factsheet is libellous. Those criticisms (see below) are common sense views on matters of great public interest, not just directed at McDonald's but at the food industry and multinationals in general. Defending such views has made the case very wide-ranging and has resulted in evidence being heard from around 180 witnesses (corporate executives and consultants, experts for both sides, and former employees etc). Often, McDonald's has forced Steel & Morris to prove the obvious - for example, that much of its packaging ends up as litter, that diet is linked to ill-health, that advertising to children gets them to pester their parents to take them to McDonald's, and that McDonald's pays low wages to its workers.

Mike Mansfield, a leading UK QC, stated recently: "The 'McLibel' case is the trial of the century as it concerns the most important issues that any of us have to face living our ordinary lives. This David and Goliath battle has it all."

The issues in the case, on which 180 witnesses have given evidence, and which were summarised in the Closing Speeches, are as follows:

The Defendants believe that critics of the fast food giant have been vindicated by the evidence in the case, particularly by admissions made by McDonald's executives and paid consultants in the witness box under cross-examination. Here are some brief highlights from the trial, which were referred to in the Closing Speeches:

Summaries of relevant evidence and extracts from the official transcripts on each issue are available from the Campaign. Ask us for 'Trial News' bulletins, and 'Great McQuotes'. For full summaries of the evidence, read the Closing Submissions in the trial transcripts, Days 283 - 313 (on the 'McSpotlight' website).


(1) The McLibel Trial is a mammoth legal battle between the $30 billion a year McDonald's Corporation and two supporters of London Greenpeace. Helen Steel (bar worker, 31) and Dave Morris (single parent and ex-postman, 43) have between them an annual income of less than 7,500 pounds. McDonald's are suing Steel & Morris for alleged libel over a 6-sided factsheet produced by London Greenpeace, entitled "What's Wrong With McDonald's? Everything they don't want you to know", which McDonald's allege they distributed in 1989/90. (London Greenpeace was the original Greenpeace group in Europe - set up in 1971. It is independent of Greenpeace UK.)

(2) The Trial began on 28th June 1994 and became the longest trial in English history in November 1996. The trial already has an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest civil case. It is also over three times as long as any previous UK libel trial (the previous longest being a mere 101 days!). A total of approximately 180 witnesses from the UK and around the world have given evidence to the court about the effects of the company's operations on the environment, on human health, on millions of farmed animals, on the Third World, and on McDonald's' own staff. They include environmental and nutritional experts, trade unionists, animal welfare experts, McDonald's employees, top executives, and five infiltrators employed by McDonald's. The judge's personal verdict is expected anytime from May 1997.

(3) Steel & Morris were denied their right to a jury trial and, with no right to Legal Aid, have been forced to conduct their own defence against McDonald's team of top libel lawyers. The denial of a jury caused Marcel Berlins, a leading legal commentator, to remark "I cannot think of a case in which the legal cards have been so spectacularly stacked against one party".

(4) After McDonald's issued 300,000 leaflets nationwide on the eve of the trial calling their critics liars, the Defendants took out a counterclaim for libel against McDonald's which is running concurrently with McDonald's libel action, leading to two separate verdicts on each of the main issues.

(5) At the time of the first anniversary of the Trial (June 1995), it was widely reported that McDonald's had initiated secret settlement negotiations with Steel & Morris. They twice flew members of their US Board of Directors to London to meet with the Defendants to seek ways of ending the case. McDonald's were, and still are, clearly very worried about the way the case has gone for them and the bad publicity they are receiving.

(6) A confidential internal memo from McDonald's in Australia (leaked to and broadcast widely by the media during the trial) revealed the Corporation's dilemma around the world with media coverage of the case: "Contain it as a UK issue". "We could worsen the controversy by adding our opinion". "We want to keep it at arms length - not become guilty by association". "This will not be a positive story for McDonald's Australia". The aim is to "minimise any further negative publicity".

(7) It's clear that McDonald's aim of suppressing the "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflets has totally backfired. Over 2 million leaflets have been handed out to the public in the UK alone since the action was started and thousands of people have pledged to continue circulating the leaflets whatever the verdict. Protests and campaigns against McDonald's continue to grow in over 24 countries. And now there is an Internet site called 'McSpotlight', an on-line library and campaigning tool, which makes available across the globe 10,000 separate files containing everything that McDonald's don't want the public to know ( McSpotlight has been accessed almost 9 million times since its launch in February 1996.

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