Still Getting Grilled
With the McLibel Two launching further legal volleys, anti-McDonald's campaigns across the world are attracting more popular support than ever. Jim Carey reviews the latest twists and turns of an incredible saga.
November 1999 / Squall Download 2, Dec-1999/Jan-2000, pg. 18.
"Why, oh why did we ever throw a pebble at a hornet's nest" must be a fair approximation of the words muttering on the lips of McDonald's executive hierarchy.
For they must surely rue the day their notorious litigation department sent out agents to throw libel writs at the feet of Helen Steel and Dave Morris in 1990. Nearly a decade later the longest trial in English legal history and the worst ever self-imposed corporate PR disaster is still ongoing. In fact the griddle is hotter than ever and it's more than just McDonald's fingers which are getting burned.
Any hopes harboured by McDonald's executives that the thorough roasting would end with Mr Justice Bell's verdict after the initial 314 day trial were scotched when the McLibel Two appealed, and the appeal court judge's verdict increased the strength of the critics' position.
Now, more frowns are furrowing the corporate brow as Helen Steel and Dave Morris are currently in the process of following up their appeal court gains by lodging a petition to the House of Lords concerning the sections of the case they have still not yet won.
The basic premise of their latest submission is two-fold. Firstly, that UK libel laws weigh unjustly in favour of transnational corporations and against the public's right to criticise corporate strategies which profoundly influence our environment and social fabric. And secondly, that the appeal court additions to the original trial verdict now mean the McLibel Two have won the bulk of the issues involved in the case and so damages should now be dropped against the defendants and placed on McDonald's. Their leave to appeal to the House of Lords is to be decided sometime in November.
In a separate case, the tenacious McLibel Two are now suing the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, claiming damages for misfeasance in public office, breach of confidence and breach of their right to privacy. The actionable case came to light during the full McLibel trial when Sid Nicholson, McDonald's ex-head of security in the UK and a former met officer, admitted in court that McDonald's security team were all ex-policeman who still had easy access to police records. He inadvertently informed the court that McDonald's security department had obtained specific information about Dave Morris and Helen Steel from currently serving Met officers. It is a case of national significance given that a proliferation of corporate security departments and private investigation firms are heavily populated with ex-policemen. Pending further prevarication, this case is to be heard towards the end of 1999.
Meanwhile, in France, the leader of the small french farmer's union Confederation Paysanne, was released from prison on bail in September. Jose Bove's crime was to lead an attack on a McDonald's burger bar in Millau, in the southern French region of Aveyron as a protest against US trade imperialism. Released as a national hero, even Lionel Jospin, the French prime minister remarked in public that "Mr Bove's cause is just.". Over the other side of the world the film "McLibel - Two worlds collide" - an independently produced documentary directed by Franny Armstrong - is receiving rave reviews on its current tour of Australian cinema's and film-houses. "An often hilarious expose of big business arrogance," commented The Sydney Morning Herald, whilst Australia's Sunday Telegraph trumpeted its praises with a four out of five star rating.
Meanwhile in the US, the animal welfare group PETA have organised a visually shocking nation-wide billboard poster campaign following McDonald's refusal to improve its record on animal cruelty. During his delivery of the McLibel verdict, Mr Justice Bell held McDonald's to be "culpably responsible for cruelty" to animals. Citing the verdict, PETA demanded an immediate improvement in McDonald's animal rearing practices. The national advertising campaign was instigated following the burger giant's refusal to entertain any of the demands. The Advertising Standard's Authority in the UK, however, have banned the adverts even before they were submitted by PETA for UK publication.
How ironic then, given the roasting continuing to be meated out to the biggest fast food corp in the world, that the British Advertising Industry awarded last year's Advertiser of the Year Award to Mike Love, Communications director for McDonald's UK. A case of protecting their own? According to Channel Four News, the McLibel trial has proved "The most disastrous PR exercise ever mounted by a multinational company".
Copies of the high quality 53 minute "McLibel - Two Worlds Collide" are available on video by calling 0171 375 3181 or e-mail: email@example.com The McSpotlight website which presents all the latest McLibel news plus transcripts from the entire trial, attracted 2.2 million visits in the week of the trial verdict and now reports a staggering total hit rate of 90 million.
A PROPER GRILLING - The McLibel trial and the legal aftermath reaches its climax at the end of 2004 - 12-Dec-2004
McLIBEL TWO TAKE SECOND BITE - Dave Morris and Helen Steel are off to the Court of Human Rights to appeal - Squall 16 - Summer 1998
McMAMMON SPECIAL - series of six articles exploring the McLibel trial and the mighty stance taken by two activists who refused to back down - Squall 11 - Autumn 1995
For the full list of Squall articles about the McLibel Trial click here