boo yacka


"The softest thing in the universe Overcomes the hardest thing in the universe." - Lao Tzu

The eighties were a time for polarisation. As the fortune of the City and its friends peaked and troughed at the whims of the market, there were others in the shadows with very different priorities. There was a resurgence of protest as people were exposed to the darker side of business - the lunacy of the arms trade, the quiet funding of oppressive regimes by banks, and the ever present manipulations by governments and their cronies. Perhaps it's just my age, but I look at the healthiness of the counter-culture now as being a direct result of the struggles of the last decade.

London Greenpeace are a small anarchist-leaning group that are independent of the rather better known Greenpeace Inc. In the mid eighties they launched a number of campaigns against anyone perpetrating injustice, destroying the earth and so on. As a part of their protest against multinational corporations they produced a six page leaflet entitled "What's wrong with McDonald's? - Everything they don't want you to know.". It was hardly a battle of equals: McDonald's annual sales worldwide are around $24 billion with restaurants in most major cities worldwide and the advertising clout to back it up. London Greenpeace have always been a rather smaller, poorer organisation, but the information they put out still managed to spread rapidly across the world. My early exposure to it was through the punk community who at one point seemed to have some hidden dictate that there had to be an article about McDonald's and multinationals in every fanzine in the western world.

There is nothing unusual about this story so far, there is a whole culture of protest against most institutions, with the leaflets, marches and t-shirts to gleefully consume until the next bandwagon comes along. In this case things moved up a gear. It seems that McDonald's sent some private detectives along to London Greenpeace meetings in 1989. They posed as activists, took part in London Greenpeace administration and followed some members associated with the campaign home. In September 1990 the McDonald's Corporation issued writs for libel against 5 London Greenpeace activists for distributing the leaflet. Faced with pretty stacked odds 3 of the 5 choose to formally apologise for their actions, but two of them - Dave Morris and Helen Steel, choose to fight the case. Game on.

The pre-trial legal machinations did not go well for the two. This isn't surprising when you consider that they are both unemployed, have little legal experience and Legal Aid does not apply to libel cases. McDonald's hired Richard Rampton QC, one of the top libel lawyers in the country, to represent them. He argued that the issues involved were too complicated for a jury to assess. The judge agreed. McDonald's were also somewhat backward in coming forwards with documents relevant to the defence. The case is massive, with 180 witnesses and 30,000 pages of evidence. It is now the longest civl trial in the history of British law.

McDonald's, by bringing the case, have changed it from an Animal Rights/green issue into a freedom of speech issue, and an entertaining one at that. If there are two things the media likes it's a censorship dispute or a David (&Helen) vs Goliath battle. Here we have both. It makes good copy - the Daily Telegraph described the trial as the best free entertainment in London. The case has made the front page on everything from The Independent to The Wall Street Journal. It has also seen an incredible amount of unity between different campaigning groups - freedom of speech-ers, trade unions, animal rightists, every shade of eco campaigner, local tenants groups that don't like litter, school kids, anarchists, even cyclists have all had their say. Since the action was brought, an estimated 1.5 million copies of a smaller version of the factsheet have been distributed around the world. 

The trial has provided a unique opportunity to examine the machinations of a multinational. Here's a peak some of the more juicy bits:


"When the court is arrayed in splendour, the fields are full of weeds." - Lao Tzu

There can't be many multi-million dollar multinationals that aren't destroying the environment. It's all part of the industrial process, but because of the upsurge in feeling about ecological issues in the 80's and 90's, many have cut back on the worst excesses, or at least not been quite so blatant.

The London Greenpeace leaflet accuses McDonald's of "destroying the Earth" by:

i) Breeding huge quantities of cattle, whose methane emissions are a large contributor to Global Warming. ii) Rearing these cattle on ex-rainforest land, preventing regeneration of forests and encouraging local people to move on, levelling even more rainforests in the process. iii) Using thousands of tons of unnecessary packaging which ends up as litter or in landfill sites.

McDonald's have countered with 3 separate leaflets. One is a total refutation of the accusations of destroying the rainforests WITH LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS. Another goes into a little detail about CFCs and harmful packaging and goes on to say that CFCs haven't been used in their materials since April 1988. The third is a massive full colour double sided thing entitled "Environment - Facing the Challenge" . The bulk of it consists of 14 points about the corporation's wonderful environmental procedures. There's everything here from recycling their paper and cardboard to encouraging staff to "save energy". And a replication of the statements in the other two leaflets, just in case you weren't paying attention (isn't this a bit of a waste of paper?). It even finishes off with some Department of the Environment recommendations for saving energy ("turn off unused lights and appliances - especially televisions", rather than "lock yourself down to a roof in the path of a new motorway", unfortunately) and a list of groups to contact like Friends of the Earth.

Friends of the Earth had actually called for a boycott of McDonald's in 1987 because of their use of CFC's in packaging. A quick call to their press office revealed that they are still concerned about the amounts of packaging being used, though they hadn't done any serious research into the matter since the boycott ended. They were also extremely keen to point out that having their name on a leaflet did not constitute an endorsement, but they hoped it would enable people to make contact with F.O.E. "for some objective data about the environment."

McDonald's does use more packaging than is necessary for basic containment of their products. Mr Edward Oakley, their Chief purchasing officer for the UK said in court that the packaging also served the function of "put{ing} the brand across directly to the customer". He also denied that the company's "Environmental Initiatives" were a propaganda exercise in the main.

In Nottingham McDonald's asked their customers to place polystyrene products in a separate bin so they could be recycled into household goods such as "plant pots, coat hangers, insulation material {...} even fillings for duvets". Mr Oakley admitted that, whilst the scheme continued for several years, none of the material was actually recycled at all. It was "dumped" instead. London Greenpeace report a similar incident in New Zealand. Out of over 550 stores in the UK, McDonald's actually only recycle some polystyrene packaging in 5 in Manchester.

The company still uses HCFC's in packaging in their stores in Hong Kong, Turkey and the Philippines.

Most of the corporation's packaging in the UK. ends up as litter and/or in landfill sites. The Director-General of the 'Tidy Britain Group' (of which McDonald's are a sponsor, along with other great environmental activists like Shell ) revealed in court that his group changed its name from 'Keep Britain Tidy' when "it had become apparent" in the late seventies that Britain wasn't tidy. (Perhaps another name to change to: "Stop Britain turning into even more of a tip than it is already" is their next move.) He agreed that the rise in fast-food companies was a contributory factor to this and that McDonald's was in the "top 1 or 2%" of litter-producing companies.

A group of environmental campaigners in Nottingham have banded together to form "Operation Send-it-back" to help McDonald's in their recycling programme by encouraging members of the public to package up any Mac-related litter and mail it directly to Paul Preston at the UK HQ. Operation Send it Back is modelled on similar pressure groups in the USA that they claim forced McDonald's to replace their styrofoam "clamshell" packaging with paper wraps. They also point out that many local resident's associations in the UK have complained about the litter factor before and after the opening of new stores, and in fact this was confirmed by one court witness.

At the time of writing (October 1995), the evidence about McDonald's alleged involvement in rainforest devastation is yet to be heard in court. However, some interesting tit-bits leaked out in the preliminary hearings. David Walker of McKey foods admitted he had personally arranged the direct import of 5 consignments of Brazilian beef for McDonald's UK in the mid-eighties. Even at this early stage there were dangerous eco-terrorists protesting about the Mac's behaviour. On meeting the President of McDonald's Canada, it was none other than Prince Philip that remarked "So you are the people who are tearing down the Brazilian rainforests and breeding cattle". The reply to this was "I think you are mistaken", to which the noble Prince (who is also a President - of the World Wildlife Fund) said "Rubbish" and stormed off. An edict from the Corporation's Chairman followed this incident saying that no McDonald's plant was to use Brazilian beef. The current McFact Sheets simply state that McDonald's isn't involved in any eco-naughtiness currently.


"Don't have a cow, man!" - Bart Simpson

Nobody but the most ardent puritan could possibly suggest that eating meat is anything other than a personal decision. Like many established (though unpleasant) activities, meat eating is backed up by the full weight of media, social reinforcement and a general lack of public information about the conditions and processes involved in its production. Whether McDonald's "murder" millions of animals is a complicated moral issue involving high-brow ethical issues like sentience, consent and so on. It is true that a vegetarian or vegan diet is a more efficient use of resources, but then our society as a whole is pretty wasteful. The issue of reducing the suffering of the animals you eat is always a n economic one. It is cheaper to factory farm animals than it is to let them live with a degree of autonomy.

Material on the horrors of factory farming is widely available and I am sure that my readers are inquisitive enough to seek it out if they haven't examined it already.

The defendants expert witnesses have been unable to check the conditions under which McDonald's cows and chickens are raised. In fact, they have been denied access to the relevant establishments.


Set the controls for the heart of the bun.

"Staying fit and healthy is a priority nowadays for everyone. A leading concern is how the food we eat affects our health." - McDonald's nutrition leaflet.

Expressions like "Burger Hog" and "junk food" are now in widespread use in the western world. It doesn't take a degree in biology to work out that fast food just isn't that good for you, but amazingly this was contested in the High Court as part of the trial.

Picking up on the consideration people are placing on health these days, McDonald's have placed leaflets about the nutritional value of their food in all of their stores. On the other hand, the McLibel leaflet has a section entitled "Ruining your health" which has the temerity to suggest an alternative version.

It isn't the first time McDonald's has been taken to task about the healthiness (or lack of it) of their products. Last time their opponents were somewhat more powerful. In 1987 in the USA McDonald's started another advertising campaign in several states. All of the ads contained buzz words like "nutrition", "balance" and "McDonald's good food". The Attorneys General of Texas, California and New York took exception to this and wrote a stiff letter to the company, which included the following: "McDonald's food is, as a whole not nutritious. The intent and result of the current campaign is to deceive customers into believing the opposite.".

Stephen Gardener, the former Assistant Attorney General of Texas, actually appeared in court. It was probably his first time defending anarchists, but hopefully not the last. He revealed that McDonald's had withdrawn the ads after legal action from the 3 States had been threatened.

McDonald's and pretty much all their competitors' food is high in fat*, cholesterol*, sugar^, salt^, animal products and contain additives~ linked to everything from hyperactivity to possible cancer, some of which have been banned in more forward-thinking countries. Conversely they are low in fibre* and certain vitamins*. As Dr William Castelli put it in an investigation into heart disease "When you see the Golden Arches you're probably on the road to the pearly gates.".

Bizarrely the issue of nutrition or otherwise was discussed at length in court. Nutrition is a grey area. Fads and food scares come and go, fluctuating at the expense of a few laboratory animals. The effect of the panics themselves on the general public is unknown- is the weight loss caused by the added stress worth it?

A definition of terms is always useful and McDonald's may have a fairly unorthodox view of what constitutes "McDonald's good food". When asked what he understood by the term "nutritious", Edward Oakley (Chief Purchasing Officer and Senior Vice-President of McDonald's UK) revealed it was "foods that contain nutrients". As he is responsible for the contents of the nutrition guides mentioned above, one begins to wonder. On the downside he reckons that there are good arguments for saying that black coffee and water aren't nutritious (but Coca Cola is ok because it's a good source of energy!). Professor Whetlock (McDonald's consultant on nutrition) confirmed this definition and added that junk food could be defined as "whatever a person doesn't like". It seems that semolina is junk food in his household. So that's the source of all the confusion. McDonald's QC interrupted at this point to say that they were not objecting to the term 'junk food' anyhow.

Dr Tim Lobstein of the Vegetarian society attempted to restore some sanity by pointing out that McDonald's statements that their food could be eaten as part of a balanced diet were meaningless. "You could eat a roll of sellotape as part of a balanced diet". Do you want fries with that?

The World Health Organisation, US government and the European Union have all recommended the reduction of consumption of fatty foods and increasing the consumption of fruit, vegetables and fibre-rich foods to prevent heart disease and cancer.

McDonald's QC agreed in court that there is a link between a high fat, low fibre diet and cancer of the breast and colon.

The defendants read Dr Sydney Arnott, McDonald's expert witness on cancer, the following statement: "A diet high in fat, sugar, animal products and salt and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals is linked with cancer of the breast and bowel and heart disease." He thought that "If it is being directed to the public then I would say it is a reasonable thing to say.". The statement is an extract from the London Greenpeace "What's wrong with McDonald's" leaflet and was described by prosecution as being the most defamatory allegation in the trial and would be "the kiss of death" for a company like McDonald's. Smiles all round.

"We can't really address or defend nutrition. We don't sell nutrition and people don't come to McDonald's for nutrition." - internal McDonald's memo 1986.

It is up to individuals whether they eat unhealthy food or not. However it is generally considered undesirable to eat things that are actually harmful. McDonald's have now claimed responsibility for an outbreak of food poisoning in Preston, Lancashire in 1991. Several of their customers were hospitalised as a result of eating burgers contaminated with E-Coli 0157H bacteria. E-Coli 0157H is potentially fatal. Similar outbreaks occurred in Oregon and Michigan in 1982

Unfortunately a document outlining the bacterial content of McDonald's hamburgers was unable to be put before the court. McDonald's lawyer stated that it had been left in the hands of the security form Group 4, but had been destroyed by them in error.

* Dr Neal Barnard President of the US Physicians Committee for Responsible Nutrition ^Dr Tim Lobstein ~ Dr Erik Millstone


"Regular unchanging work is a dangerous drug. It is addictive, harmful to the body and mind, and it reduces people's natural intelligence. Work creates anger by killing time." - Milanera Okumbo

Despite the smiling faces in the adverts, there is hardly a glamour attached to working at McDonald's or their competitors. As with all the service industry at the food end, shifting burgers conjures up images of drudgery. A colleague of mine (who we shall call Luther Blisset to protect his street cred) worked for McDonald's in Romford in the mid-eighties and was able to back up much of the material from the McLibel Support Group and the mainstream press about the employment section of the trial.

Two thirds of McDonald's crew are under 21 and a third are under 18. It emerged in court that McDonald's UK has admitted to being convicted of 73 offences to do with the employment of young people in the early eighties. In 1988/89 eight franchise-owned McDonald's stores in Philadelphia were hauled up for 466 violations of child labour laws. Staff turnover in 1989 was approx. 190%. No wonder that the term "McJob" has now entered common parlance.

"You get the feeling that the counter staff aren't really McDonald's - they seem really transient - it's the guys in the suits that LIVE the company and go away on the courses at the weekends..." LB

Sid Nicholson, UK vice president said that basic rates of pay were set at "consistently either exactly the same as the minimum rates of pay set by the Wages Council, or a few pence over them." and also "I do not accept that McDonald's crew are low paid" or even that the catering industry is badly paid compared to others. Robert Beavers (US Vice President) said that there were "no hours guaranteed" and that 80% of the jobs were part time. It is against McDonald's UK policy to employ people for more than 39 hours a week, therefore neatly avoiding having to pay any over time. However, a look at the company records showed that 2-3 under 18 year old were working over 96 hours a fortnight in 1993.

"I came home knackered and covered in salt and oil" LB

Mr Nicholson has said that the company is very much in favour of performance related pay, and considering the senior management team are rumoured to earn 75,000 p.a. this is hardly surprising. On the floor, things are a little different. The company obviously wants staff to work as efficiently as possible, and for this reason instituted a "hustle" policy to speed things along. A report by the Accident Prevention Advisory Unit of the Health & Safety Executive in 1992 concluded that this could be "putting the service of the customer before the safety of employees". It is hard work. To get a 10p per hour pay rise your performance would be one that "consistently exceeds job requirements and specifications".

"I felt that the managers were tory bigots who couldn't get a job anywhere else. They were real 'Might is Right' types." - LB

One former Manager in Newcastle was sacked for getting a crew member to do a bomb hoax on a local Burger King in 1992. Witness Simon Gibney, a former assistant manager of McDonald's in Colchester ("store of the year" in 1987) revealed that he was instructed to water down ketchup, milkshakes and other drinks, as well as regularly working past midnight when he was 18 years old. His testimony made the front page of the national newspaper "Today" on Halloween this year.

Gibney stated that he had worked on a couple of occasions in a kitchen with sewage overflowing from the drains all over the floor. Crew member Mark Hopkins was electrocuted on touching a 'fat filtering unit' at a Manchester McDonald's in October 1992. A McDonald's memo dated 17/2/92 had previously revealed that "there have been several recent instances in our restaurants where members of staff have received severe shocks from faulty items of electrical equipment". Mark Hopkins died of electrocution. The Environmental Health Department's investigation ordered the company to install devices on all electrical equipment in wash-up areas, which was done. The Inquest verdict was accidental death. McDonald's own internal report concluded that "safety is not seen as being important at store level" and listed a number of other problems and failures on their part. The report was not put before the Inquest and only came to the notice of the general public as part of the trial. Mark Hopkins' family are now calling for a second Inquest and have taken part in protests against the corporation.

Obviously one of the main ways working people have fought back against mal-treatment is by joining a union. And Mr Nicholson has stated that all the staff have a right to join one. Strangely, this doesn't seem to happen that often. Perhaps this is because they're "...not allowed to carry out any overt union activity on McDonald's premises" or maybe it's because "if every member of crew in a particular restaurant joined a union {McDonald's} would still not negotiate with the union". Or maybe, as the defendants allege, it is simply because McDonald's are opposed to unions per se. Certainly they employed one John Cooke in the early seventies "to keep the unions out" in the USA. Certainly they were also accused in 1974 of using lie detector tests to determine staff member's union sympathies. Certainly Mr Nicholson himself visited stores in the UK personally throughout the eighties accompanied by Management or Security officials for a little chat with any crew members who were considering unionisation, though he denies that they would have felt this intimidating. The McLibel Support Group has a catalogue of union activity in McDonald's that covers everywhere from China to Canada to the Canary Islands to Chicago. To the untrained eye, it does certainly seem that the company doesn't allow them an easy passage.

But, despite all this, there still seem to be some idealists in the world that are willing to band together and fight for better conditions. A group called the McDonald's Freedom Fighters was formed in the Colchester store mentioned above (complete with secret handshakes!). A major initiative has started in Hackney, with "the Support Network for McDonald's Workers". They produce factsheets about Health & Safety and other issues and also organise a day of protest on October 12th to commemorate Mark Hopkins and encourage solidarity.



"You might just as well say", added the March Hare, "that 'I like what I get' is the same as 'I get what I like'."

Since about the 1950's the role of advertising has shifted from informing to promoting an image. Companies realised that their products were pretty much identical to their competitors and so an approach like "Sudso washing powder gets clothes clean" was a one-way trip to plummeting sales. Most of the advertising on TV these days carries a small amount of information about a product and then goes on to sell the lifestyle that goes with it. Simply using a shampoo transforms a dowdy female into a fabulously attractive (and well lit) model. It is the same with fast food. Burger King seem to be using a "customer service" model. Their advertising implies that the people that eat their burgers are discerning and therefore the company has to bend over backwards to give them what they want. In the real world this just amounts to whether or not you choose to have a gherkin in your "Whopper", but this is in stark contrast to the McDonald's approach.

According to their 1993 annual report, the McDonald's corporation spent over $1.4 billion on advertising and promotions in that year, a whopping 6% of their sales. 35million is spent each year in the UK. The London Greenpeace leaflet states that "...behind the smiling face of Ronald McDonald lies the reality - McDonald's only interest is money, making profits from whoever and whatever they can.". While this is undoubtedly true, much of the material from London Greenpeace misses the essential point about the psychology of advertising. They seem surprised that Paul Preston (McDonald's UK President) can make statements in court to the effect that Ronald McDonald isn't intended to "sell food to children", but to promote the "McDonald's experience". Of course it is intended to do both, but the smiling clown has realised that you can sell people anything once you have convinced them that the world is a Happy Wacky McDonald's Sort Of Place. Or, in more conspiratorial terms, they want your souls before they get your cash.

Mr Hawkes, McDonald's UK Chief Marketing Officer was quizzed in depth in court. The role of the corporation's advertising to children was discussed. McDonald's advertises on TV ("the most powerful advertising medium") most weeks of the year. It especially aims at 2-8 year olds. Mr Hawkes believes that teaching them cutesie songs will "keep the memory of McDonald's at the forefront of their minds so they can again ask their parents if they can come to McDonald's". Apparently less marketing is done for 8-15 year olds because they pester their parents less about where to eat. The media presence is backed up by things like offers on toys (which often reinforce the "McDonald's experience" by being branded with the logo or being characters from the adverts) and childrens' parties. From the corporation's official and confidential "Operations Manual" (which was read out in court) - " Ronald loves McDonald's and McDonald's food. And so do children because they love Ronald. Remember, children exert a phenomenal influence when it comes to restaurant selection. This means that you should do everything you can to appeal to children's love for Ronald and McDonald's."

But Ronald's love can be fickle. Geoffrey Guillano, the main man-behind-the-greasepaint in the 80's has quit and apologised for his actions (though hopefully not for those excellent big shoes) "I brainwashed youngsters into doing wrong. I want to say sorry to children everywhere for selling out to concerns who make millions out by murdering animals." He is now a vegan.

"Smash the Mac - American tat: Smash the Mac 'til it doesn't come back" - Crass

The nature of "the McDonald's experience" is necessarily American and (in lefty-speak) imperialist. In taking their wares to Japan, the MacCorp faced a number of problems, not least the minimal consumption of beef by the Japanese. Their President there, Den Fujita, neatly brought this to attention: "the reason Japanese people are so short and have yellow skins is because they have eaten nothing but fish and rice for two thousand years" and went on: "if we eat McDonald's hamburgers for a thousand years we will become taller, our skin become white and our hair blonde". In a book authorised by McDonald's in 1987 it is stated that: "McDonald's foreign partners made major changes in marketing in order to sell the American system." rather than modifying their procedures to fit in with native tastes and customs. Cue dystopian science fiction novel where everywhere is transformed into McDonald's.....

"It is our objective to dominate the communications area...because we are competing for a share of the customer's mind" - Alistair Fairgreave, McDonald's UK Marketing Services Manager


Why have you just campaigned against McDonald's instead of all the multinationals?

H- We didn't start the campaign as individuals. It was started by London Greenpeace in the 1980's. The factsheet that's the subject of the libel action was produced about a year after the campaign was started and brought together all the criticisms that had been made by various groups around the world - vegetarians, nutritionists, environmentalists, etc. It drew them together as one big look at the workings of a multinational company and the effect that such a multinational company has on society and people's lives. McDonald's were chosen because they had a really high profile. They are a very well known company, so they were a good example to pick to show people what the reality is behind the glossy image that they put over. They try to say that they're a great thing for society and for the environment and the reality is that they're completely the opposite.

D- The factsheet is criticising multinationals in general and the food industry in particular, and focusing on McDonald's as a particular example of the food industry and capitalism in general. So the criticisms aren't just levelled at McDonald's, they apply to all companies that exploit workers and produce poor quality food and damage the environment. I think it should be known that McDonald's spend $1.5 billion every year on advertising itself and it's just crying out for some criticism and some alternative points of view. Which, of course, they are trying to suppress.

But why spend god knows how many years of your life single-handedly taking them on?

H - (Laughs). When we started, we didn't know how long it would last. But, really, it's something that had to be done at some stage. Basically they were threatening anybody - tiny student newspapers to daily papers, Channel 4, trade unions, playwrights, green groups. Because of the completely unfair libel laws in this country where the onus is on the defendant to prove everything from primary sources, (which means that you've got to get the witnesses to court rather than rely on documentation) - when you get a libel writ you're pretty much advised that as a defendant you stand very little chance of winning the case, so everybody basically backs out.

D- And that's even if you've got a million pounds and a fairly simple case. This case is so vast in scope. We're covering several issues of large public interest such as diet and ill-health, McJobs and exploitation of workers, production of wasteful packaging, the effects of cattle ranching on the environment and so on. These are all big issues in the world and we have the obligation to go to court to defend the public's right to criticise the rich and powerful who are responsible for those problems.

H - That's the thing - it's difficult enough to fight a normal libel case, which presents enough problems for people with a lot of money. But for people with basically no money - we can't instruct solicitors or be represented in court. And the most important thing about not getting legal aid is that we can't ask solicitors or whoever to go and take statements for us from people around the world. That would normally be paid for. We haven't got the time or the money to do the research and collation of everything..

D- ...translating documents....

H - So it is a completely unfair battle, but they have to stood up to. They're like bullies and they just carry on bullying people and getting away with it until someone actually stands up to them.

Do you think this will stop them?

H - I think they'll certainly think twice before rushing into any future libel cases. They've seen that by bringing this case millions more people have heard about it and obviously from their point of view that is totally the opposite of what they wanted.

D - The point is, that by taking an action against us they've totally justified the reasons for people focusing on them in the first place. The reason that people focused on McDonald's and people all over the world are producing literature criticising McDonald's is because they feel that they are a company that deserves to be challenged, to be looked at and put in the spotlight. Now by suing us, they've only strengthened the determination of their critics. I'm not expecting people to be campaigning to support me, I'm in court to support people's rights to continue distributing information about multinational corporations. So although the court case is receiving all the publicity , what's really important is that millions of the leaflets are circulating world-wide as a counter to McDonald's staggering advertising and promotion budget and that can only be a good thing.

H - It is exhausting and it is very stressful. But we think it's just got to be done, so we just get on with it.

D - Libel isn't about establishing the truth, because - for example - if it was, McDonald's advertising would be banned tomorrow. McDonald's advertising, which they've tried to claim in court is informative and has entertainment value....

H - ....Whereas the truth revealed by their own company documents, operations and training manuals is that McDonald's is a strong marketing tool and appeals to childrens love of Ronald McDonald.

D - So that's the first grounds on which their advertising should be stopped. Secondly their representative of the case, the top guy in this case - Robert Beavers, from their board of directors in America, he said in the witness box that all over the world they advertise their food as nutritious. This is a colossal deception over the hundreds of millions of people that are forced to see their stupid adverts, posters - you don't have any choice about it...

H - You can't walk down the street without seeing it.

D- ...it's thrust in your face. Why people should be forced to see deceptive, you know, propaganda, just because McDonald's have got $1.5 billion to spare. It's sickening, I think. And I think society has to choose whether it wants to be brainwashed or not, whether it wants to defend the right of people to criticise the rich and powerful. And that's what we're going to carry on doing.

And indeed they are. After the interview Dave Morris gives me a leaflet about some fast food workers in Tottenham being laid off for attempting to unionise. I get home to find a press release about some members of The Campaign Against The Arms Trade being sued for libel. There have been thousands of pickets and protests around the world against McDonald's on October the 16th as part of the "anti-McDonald's day" (including a staggering 50% of the hundreds of UK stores).

"We're interested in information, we're not interested in music as such. And we believe that the whole battlefield, if there is one in the human situation, is about information." - Genesis P-Orridge

Getting down to brass tacks, this case isn't about food, workers or even multinationals. It is about whose version of reality we are allowed to believe. It is about the flow of information and seeing behind all the gloss and greasepaint. Whatever the result of the trial, both sides will surely claim a victory. The libel laws are set up in such a way that it looks likely that the defendants will be found guilty on at least one charge, allowing McDonald's add ammunition to their claim (in a leaflet that was available in all their UK stores) that the case "is not about freedom of speech; it is about the right to stop people telling lies". The real issue is about McDonald's public image, and the constant appearance of evidence from the trial in the mainstream press can hardly be doing them much good. At the beginning of the trial it was agreed that McDonald's would pay all legal costs (as both of the defendants are on Income Support, nobody expected any damages to be paid). This included paying for the copies of the court transcripts for the judge and defendants, a vital part of any court procedure. The transcripts were also used to supply details of the trial events to the media and the McLibel Support Campaign, and for this reason McDonald's have now gone back on their promise and the defendants must now go without, or pay the daily commercial charge of 350 just to have a record of their own trial. You can say what you like in this country, but most only hear it if you have the money to disseminate it properly. The case, as they say, continues.


The bulk of the materials for this article (including all quotes from the court) were obtained from the McLibel Support Group, who operate on a shoe-string out of a tiny room above a bookshop in London. Contact them for more up to date details of the case:

McLibel Support Campaign: c/o 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX, UK. Tel/Fax 0171 713 1269.

You may also wish to contact:

MacSpotlight. boo yacka

Support Network for McDonald's Workers: c/o Hackney Trade Union Support Unit, 56 Clarence Road, London E5

The Communications Department, McDonald's Restaurants Limited, 11-59 High Road, East Finchley, London N2 8AW. UK. Tel 0181 883 6400.

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