Albion Monitor /News

"McLibel" Activists Win Mixed Victory

by Jeff Elliott

Prosecuting the activists also cost McDonald's approximately $16,000,000
In a packed London courtroom, with one side of the audience in business suits and the other wearing anti-McDonald's t-shirts, the presiding judge returned a mixed decision in the "McLibel" case, awarding some damages to fast food giant, yet agreeing with the vegan activists on several key points.

"Some [of the defendant's claims] are true -- some are not," Justice Roger Bell said in the ruling made this morning, June 19.

Dave Morris and Helen Steel -- an unemployed mailman and part-time bartender often referred to as the "McLibel 2" -- were ordered to pay $188,000 to the burger corporation. McDonald's would not comment to Associated Press on whether they expected to collect.

Although most observers expected the hamburger empire to triumph, the prosecution of the two projected an image of a corporate bully, generating widespread negative publicity. Prosecuting the activists also cost McDonald's roughly 100 times as much as the judgement, or approximately $16,000,000.

Justice Bell also agreed that the megacorporation manipulates children
With over two years of testimony, the marathon trial became the longest in British history. From the summer of 1994 to December 13th 1996, roughly 15 thousand pages of testimony was taken from 180 witnesses. An additional 40,000 pages of evidence was entered into the record.

(A summary of the case appeared in the Albion Monitor last November, and the "McSpotlight" page contains comprehensive background on the case, complete with transcripts. Also recommended is this commentary which appeared in the Toronto Star earlier this month.)

In deciding for McDonald's, Justice Bell declared the pair libeled the company by distributing a pamphlet declaring that McDonald's:

  • Destroys rainforests by encouraging Brazilian cattle ranching
  • Lies about the amount of recycled packaging used
  • Often causes illness through food poisoning
  • Ruins customer's health by selling processed food high in fat, sugar and salt, and low in fibre and vitamins
  • According to an early AP report, the judge qualified the latter decision, admitting that eating at McDonald's for years would give a small number of customers "the very real risk of heart disease."

    The judge also hedged on anti-union charges made in the pamphlet. While McDonald's managers oppose unions, the corporation does not have a no-union policy. And although the business sometimes treats workers unfairly, Justice Bell declared that working conditions were not bad overall.

    In deciding against McDonald's, Justice Bell declared the business "culpable" in animal cruelty. Among the evidence presented to the court last year was information that McDonald's only stipulated that chickens should have a 'good meat yield,' never once suggesting improvement of conditions where the majority of the animals are crippled because of tiny cages.

    Justice Bell also agreed that the megacorporation manipulates children through the Ronald McDonald character, advertising, and other means.

    After the verdict, the activists were cheered by supporters outside the courtroom. Morris handed out copies of the controversial flyer, then the pair led a protest march.

    A Washington D.C. rally will be held Friday, June 20, at the Pennsylvania Avenue franchise sometimes visited by President Clinton.

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    Albion Monitor June 19, 1997 (

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