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McLibel Support Campaign
P R E S S . R E L E A S E . Feb. 2002
Anti-McDonald's Campaign Global Update, Feb 2002
WIDESPREAD PROTESTS CONTINUE OUTSIDE McSTORES The 17th annual Worldwide Anti-McDonald's Day was held on Tues October 16th [UN World Food Day], 2001 - a protest against the promotion of junk food, the unethical targeting of children, exploitation of workers, animal cruelty, damage to the environment and the global domination of corporations over our lives. Last year, as always, we had reports of local protests all around the globe, including from Australia, Phillipines, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand, Malta, Israel, UK, Greece, Italy, Russia, Croatia and USA.
[In 1999 we monitored where the protests took place - we heard of 425 protests and pickets in 345 towns in 23 countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, USA]. Over 3 million leaflets have now been handed out in the UK alone since 1990 (when the McDonald's Corporation served libel writs aiming to suppress the London Greenpeace leafletting campaign) and it is now distributed worldwide.
WHY NOT ORGANISE PICKETS IN YOUR TOWN ANY TIME? We often hear of local protests and pickets. People do their own leaflets, or copy the 'What's Wrong With McDonald's?' leaflet at:www.mcspotlight.org/campaigns/current/resources/index.html
McREPUTATION CONTINUES TO PLUMMET Despite its strenuous efforts, McDonald's is widely despised, and its 'reputation' - along with that of the food industry in general - continues to sink ever further. As well as the mass distribution of leaflets by thousands of local activists around the world the global campaign against McDonald's has continued to grow over the last couple of years:
Hinchley Wood 'Residents Against McDonald's' [RAM] exposed oppressive local planning laws in which companies can steamroller over the wishes of communities, and councils allow only very narrow grounds for objection (eg. increased traffic problems, design etc) which fail to address communities' concerns over the quality of their lives and environment. Hence profiteering business chains continue to invade neighbourhoods, often replacing green spaces and local facilities with their standardised, mediocre products, backed up by marketing hype. In particular, objections to the transformations of local pubs into fast food stores are automatically dismissed as not a 'change of use'. As a consequence, the Hinchley Wood residents have been contacting other campaigners around the country to mount a campaign for the reform of such planning laws. The UK Government Department of Transport and the Regions have since announced a review of these laws. The Hinchley Wood residents decided to conduct their own review by contacting the planning departments of hundreds of local authorities about this problem. Their report [see www.mcspotlight.org/campaigns/current/a3review.html] was released in April 2000. It summarises the numerous responses and concludes there is widespread concern including at the official level over this issue. The Hinchley Wood campaigners also analysed company statistics on the development of McDonald's stores throughout the UK which showed that their expansion relies on the development of new sites outside the usual High Street locations. The threat to local community pubs is no coincidence.
SOLIDARITY WITH McDONALD'S WORKERS October 12th each year marks the anniversary of the death in 1992 of Mark Hopkins, a worker electrocuted at a McDonald's store in Manchester. (On 8th March 1996, a crew member from Wollongong in Australia, also died from electrocution in controversial circumstances). In recent years there have been leafletting of McDonald's staff, solidarity pickets and other protests on this day. "I want every McDonald's worker to stand up for their rights, which is why I am backing this campaign 100%. In this way, Mark's death will not have been in vain."
In the UK there have been efforts within various stores over the years to organise, to join a trade union, or to challenge local store management. Naturally, there is discontent and anger in every store among those being forced to work so hard for such low wages, being bossed around like slaves, brainwashed by idiotic company propaganda, and then expected to smile all the time! And all so that McDonald's can make fat profits from its mediocre and useless products.
However, due to McDonald's repressive but sophisticated methods in opposing any workers challenging the status quo, there is a great need for outside support and solidarity. Over a million and a half people worldwide work for McDonald's - they work in similar conditions, carefully created and controlled by management to maximise company profits. McDonald's have pioneered methods of exploitation which have been widely taken up by other companies and corporations. All workers in the food industry, and in every industry under capitalism everywhere, are exploited - but McDonald's is an excellent symbol of a global economy dominated by institutions geared to profiteering. Resistance to McDonald's - whether communities opposing the siting of new stores, campaigners undermining their public image, or from store workers standing up to management power, shows that people everywhere can think for themselves and fight back. This is why we promote the annual October Day of Action in support of McDonald's workers, and encourage ongoing support throughout the year.
On Oct 12th 2000 we received the statement, below, from a group of UK McDonald's store workers that we've had some sporadic contact with.... Since then supporters of the workers involved in the MWR distributed in the UK three thousand copies of 2 issues of their MWR paper ‘McSues’ (to counter the company propaganda paper for staff: ‘McNews’) written for fellow workers. Responses to: email@example.com
" McDonalds Workers Resistance (MWR), run entirely by McDonalds employees, is an independent combination of a few small groups of workers that have united in an attempt to create serious opposition to the company.
" Most of us agree that working for McDonalds is shit - late nights, skin irritations, no overtime, harassment from management, low wages, stupid uniforms, unlawful business practices, imbecilic propaganda, cuts and burns, oppressive controls on how we should look, never being able to finish on time - there's a lot we object to. Our proposal is simple - DON'T MOAN, ORGANISE! We believe that if we can only realise our collective power then there is nothing we can't win. We also believe that we can do this best without leaders or hierarchies but by working at a local level to begin to control our working lives.
" Consequently, MWR has been established, not as a centralised group, but as a convenient banner under which several previously isolated pockets of resistance can fight back against the company. We have no official membership and no dues so please take the initiative in (dis)organising your store and spreading the resistance (please be careful and remember McDonalds record of attempting to silence all who oppose it). McDonalds is the epitome of triumphalist capitalism, arrogant and contemptuous of those who oppose it. It may soon be surprised - the workers united are more possible than they can powerfully imagine. "
‘UNHAPPY MEALS’ - EXPOSING THE McEXPLOITATION OF TOY WORKERS IN CHINA Following protests by trades unionists and other activists in Hong Kong over low pay in McDonald's 160 stores there, a report was commissioned by the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee [HKCIC] - released in August 2000 - which investigated and exposed the reality of the conditions experienced in factories in Guangdong province in China where up to 100,000 workers produce toys for McDonald's worldwide. The report condemned scandalous exploitation - including outrageously low pay, long hours, no workers' rights, victimisation of strikers, and the use of child labour.
McDonald's had persistantly denied poor conditions and the use of child labour saying, as recently as three months ago, that its own auditing reports (October 1999 and May 2000) had found nothing wrong. Following the adverse publicity and protest generated by the HKCIC report McDonald's moved to cover up the issue by switching suppliers, leaving hundreds of workers sacked without paying wages or any compensation. This only served to create more anger and protest, including a march on Oct 15th 2000 in Hong Kong and solidarity protests in Canada, the US, the UK and elsewhere. A new Report (Dec 2001) slammed continuing exploitation by toy suppliers for McDonald's, Disney, Hasbro and Mattel.
CHALLENGING McPROPAGANDA In October 1999 in the USA, People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals (PETA) launched a nationwide billboard poster campaign attacking Ronald McDonald's as 'The US No 1 Serial Killer' (in response they said to the McLibel verdict), with pictures of slaughtered chickens and cows. When their UK branch publicised their intent to do the same in England they were told by the regulatory authorities that they would be banned. PETA joined the international anti-McDonald's protests on October 16th. PETA have now changed their focus to Burger King.
In 1999, to expose the hypocrisy of the advertising industry, and in the light of the McLibel ruling that McDonald's exploit children, the McLibel Support Campaign called on the public to send in letters to the Independent Television Commission calling for a ban on all McDonald's advertising to children. In February 2000 the ITC reported that they had received 205 complaints about McDonald's advertising in that month alone - out of a total of 610 complaints about all advertising.
McLIBEL LEGAL UPDATE
McLIBEL TWO CELEBRATE 10TH ANNIVERSARY BY TAKING THE U.K. GOVERNMENT TO THE EUROPEAN COURT Ten years to the day on which the McDonald's Corporation served libel writs on Helen Steel and Dave Morris (20th September 1990) the McLibel 2 lodged an application to take the U.K. Government to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Helen and Dave, the two defendants in the longest trial in English legal history, assert that the McLibel trial breached, in particular, Article 6 [right to a fair trial] and Article 10 [right to freedom of expression] of the Human Rights Convention, and that English libel laws are incompatible with the convention.
This follows the refusal, in April 2000, of the House of Lords to allow them leave for a full appeal to be heard there after a controversial trial and appeal resulting in a 'mixed verdict' in which damning rulings were made against McDonalds' core business practices - yet the defendants were ordered to pay the company damages.
The McLibel 2 are seeking to defend the public's right to criticise companies whose business practices affect people's lives, health and the environment. They also seek an end to oppressive, unfair and archaic defamation laws and procedures in general, and in their case in particular. The main arguments in Europe cover breaches of Articles 6, 8, 10, 11 and 13: A. Multinational corporations, should have no right to sue for libel as it is in the overriding public interest that they be subjected to unfettered scrutiny and criticism (as applies to governmental organisations), since they have huge power and influence.
B. If there is a right to sue, it should be a defence for a defendant to show 'reasonable belief' in the words complained of, or that the issues are of public importance.
C. The McLibel case was an abuse of legal process due to several factors - for example, the imbalance of financial and legal resources as between the two sides and the denial of a jury trial.
McLIBEL BACKGROUND McDonald's issued writs against the McLibel 2 on 20th September 1990 alleging they had been libelled in the London Greenpeace factsheet: "What's Wrong With McDonald's?". The McLibel trial began on 28th June 1994, and on June 19th 1997, after a trial lasting 314 days, Mr Justice Bell ruled that: McDonald's marketing has "pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which their food (high in fat & salt etc) did not match"; that McDonald's "exploit children" with their advertising strategy; are "culpably responsible for animal cruelty"; and "pay low wages, helping to depress wages in the catering trade."
On March 31st 1999 the Court of Appeal added to those damning findings. Lord Justices Pill, May and Keane ruled that it was fair comment to say that McDonald's employees worldwide "do badly in terms of pay and conditions", and true that "if one eats enough McDonald's food, one's diet may well become high in fat etc., with the very real risk of heart disease." However the Courts ruled that the McLibel 2 had still libelled McDonald's over some points and outrageously ordered them to pay £40,000 damages to the $35 billion-dollar company. The McLibel 2 have refused to pay a penny.
THE POLICE ARE SUCCESSFULLY SUED In July 2000 the Metropolitan Police, in order to avoid what they called 'a difficult and lengthy trial' brought against them by the McLibel 2, agreed to pay £10,000 to Helen and Dave, plus their legal costs, and most significantly 'to bring this settlement to the attention of the 3 Area Commanders of the Metropolitan Police Force and ask them to remind their officers of their responsibility not to disclose information on the Police National Computer to a third party.' Det. Sgt. Valentine also stated he 'regretted any distress of the claimants caused by the disclosure of their details' to a private investigator hired by McDonald's to infiltrate London Greenpeace.
The claim resulted from actions of police officers, including Special Branch officers, which came to light as a result of the McLibel trial. Police officers had passed private and in some cases false information about the McLibel 2 (and some other protestors), including their home addresses, to McDonald's and to private investigators hired by McDonald's to infiltrate London Greenpeace. During the trial Sid Nicholson, McDonald's Head of Security and a former Met Chief Superintendent, testified that McDonald's security department were 'all ex-policemen' and if he ever wanted to know information about protestors he would go to his contacts in the police. This collusion between the police and a multinational corporation against members of the public exposes the political role of the police in ensuring the wheels of big business keep turning.
WHAT CAN BE LEARNED FROM MCLIBEL? Around the world there is a war being waged on society by a powerful minority who seek to control and use other people, animals and the planet in order to make profits for themselves. But many around the world are fighting back, for ecological sustainability and for freedom for all people and animals. Increasingly companies are turning to the courts to suppress this dissent and opposition. But the thousands of people around the world who participated in the McLibel battle have demonstrated that when people are organised and defiant these corporations do not succeed in getting everything their own way, and that court cases can instead be used as an opportunity to draw many more people’s attention to the issues.
In September 1990 McDonald's issued libel writs in order to suppress the distribution (at that time in the thousands) of London Greenpeace anti-McDonald's leaflets, and with the wider aim of frightening off and silencing all other critics of the company. Instead the leafletting has mushroomed since the writs were served and there is a much greater public awareness of what McDonald's really represents - for us it is a symbol of a whole system geared to ruthless exploitation and profit. The 'McSpotlight' Internet site, with over 85 million 'hits' in its first 4 years, has enabled campaigners, researchers, journalists and interested people world-wide to have immediate access to a huge range of anti-McDonald's material and news. This victory in defiance of McDonalds' threats demonstrates the power that ordinary people have when they believe in themselves and fight back against the powerful institutions who currently control our lives and the planet.
The company had predicted that the case would last '3-4 weeks', but instead it was turned into an extensive public tribunal in which corporate 'McWorld' was put on trial. McDonald's spent an estimated £10 million as against a defence total of £35,000 raised from public donations. Despite all the cards being stacked against them, and the vast amount of work involved, it was an amazing and empowering experience for the defendants (and for others too). People rallied round to help out in all kinds of practical ways: as witnesses; helping with admin; giving legal advice; sending copies of press cuttings & company documents, money and even just messages of support. The defendants were determined to be seen as fighters rather than passive 'victims'. Representing themselves in such a huge trial was exhausting but was also the most rewarding aspect of the trial, giving them the opportunity to challenge corporate propaganda head on, bring out previously secret information about the company and put forward an alternative world view.
Critics of McDonald's and of the food industry in general were completely vindicated by the evidence, the judge making some damning major findings against the company's core business practices. Following this McDonald's capitulated by abandoning all efforts to get costs, damages or an injunction to stop the leafleting (which had been their primary aim).
But none of this would have been effective without the actions of thousands of ordinary people continuing to protest and distribute leaflets, ensuring that the public heard the other side of the story to that spun by McDonald's. The McLibel Support Campaign was set up by volunteers to galvanise public interest and support, to help with legal finances and practical tasks, but amazingly for most of the time it was run from an office in someone's bedroom. Despite this it succeeded in ensuring that the private and often seemingly obscure legal battle in the courtroom became a public issue fought and won in the court of public opinion and on the street.
Regular supporters' mailouts, hundreds of e-mailings and numerous international 'Days of Action' were organised to ensure the public got to hear about the issues. Although the media (establishment and alternative) were consistently contacted and given reports of what was going on, the capitalist media largely trivialised or ignored the case, focussing on the personal side rather than the real issues. The campaign, with varying success, also made links with residents' associations opposing plans for new McDonald's stores, gave encouragement to kids wanting to circulate anti-Ronald leaflets, and made contacts with disgruntled employees. So, despite being up against one of the most successful propaganda organisations in the world, campaigners were able to throw the company so much on the defensive that after the trial their usual sophisticated PR was reduced to an embarrassed silence on the subject. The courts were also shown to be powerless in the face of mass defiance.
DIY VICTORY This was a real DIY victory, echoing other recent movements defying legal suppression - e.g. over issues of free speech, rights to organise and demonstrate, and to party, Poll Tax, environmental and animal rights direct actions, occupations of empty homes and buildings, and workers' struggles. We can all benefit from those movements which have gone before, giving us the perspective and strength to be able to fight and win current battles and ultimately, the long war for a better world. Social inequalities and controls, and conflict and environmental destruction are serious and growing problems, so public discontent and opposition is bound to increase - as will our contact with the courts. Rather than be intimidated by repression, we should see it as a sign of our success and be even more determined to fight back. We need to create a new society by taking direct control of our lives, workplaces, streets, neighbourhoods and land. Together ordinary people can reclaim our world, currently based on the greed and power of a minority, and create an anarchist society based on strong and free communities, the sharing of precious resources and respect for all life.
Further details of the case, the campaign, or London Greenpeace from
'McSpotlight' - available on CD-Rom. Also available: 'McLibel: Burger
Culture On Trial' (Pan Books, Macmillian press - now out of print, but
available from the MSC for #6.00 UK, #8.00 abroad) and the superb
documentary 'McLibel: Two Worlds Collide' (53 mins - from One Off
Productions, firstname.lastname@example.org). McLibel announcements list: send a blank
email to email@example.com or visit: www.mcspotlight.org/campaigns/current/mailing.html
Debating Room: www.mcspotlight.org/DR/