What’s Wrong With McDonald’s?

The McLibel Case

By Ken Wright


On Thursday April 30th, The Human Rights Action Group with the VEG Group and the Radical Society screened a film in the Memorial Theatre outlining the epic McLibel case against McDonald's. Being in New Zealand, we are very much isolated from the rest of the world, or rather the rest of the world are very much isolated from New Zealand. Having heard only snippets of news about some people, somewhere in England doing something to upset McDonald’s and were now being taken to court, I really couldn’t care less. This was my attitude until I learnt what was really going on. I was horrified and immediately wanted to show my disappointment with McDonald's. I now no longer eat at McDonald's. Will this make a difference? Alone, probably not, but with a growing number of people now choosing to go elsewhere we can make a difference.

It all began with two people. Two people who believed that the truth was out there, took on the massive multinational corporation of McDonald's, in their best efforts to expose the truth. In 1990 Helen Steel and Dave Morris were sued by McDonald's, for distributing a 6-sided factsheet entitled "What's Wrong With McDonald's? Everything they don't want you to know" which criticised almost all aspects of the company's policies and practices. The couple, with a combined annual income of £7,500 faced overwhelming odds from day one, when they were denied legal aid and a jury, therefore having to represent themselves up against a US$30 billion-a-year corporation and their experienced lawyers and notoriously oppressive and unfair libel laws.

McDonald's spends US$2 billion a year on its global advertising and propaganda. Not wanting to take the criticisms from Helen and Dave lying down, McDonald's in the pre-trial period released 300,000 leaflets and press releases to counter-claim against the couple. The Judge later ruled that the McDonald's leaflets were "defamatory, unjustified, contained allegations which McDonald's knew to be untrue, and that part of the motive...was to discredit the defendants".

On June 19th 1997, Justice Bell gave his verdict on the case. The Judge found as a fact that McDonald’s "exploit children" through their advertising, that they are "culpably responsible" for cruelty to animals, and that the company is anti-Union, and pays such low wages that it helps to depress the already low wages in the catering industry even further.

Furthermore, the Judge found McDonald's food to be "high in fat and saturated fat and animal products and sodium" and that the "advertisements, promotions and booklets have pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which McDonald's’ food...did not match" (ie: that the food is not nutritious and that they are therefore deceiving the public when they promote it as such)

However, the Judge also ruled in favour of McDonald's of the other parts of the Judgment on the basis of controversial legal and semantic interpretations of the fact sheet. McDonald’s claim that the fact sheet meant that the company itself directly caused rainforest destruction and hunger in the third world and that people had a very real risk of cancer, heart disease and food poisoning from eating the company's food, even though the fact sheet did not state this.

Despite having found McDonald's guilty of deceiving the public about nutritional value of its food, exploiting the millions of vulnerable children it targets, exploiting hundreds of thousand of non-unionised workers with low pay, and causing cruelty to millions of animals, the court has imposed no punishment, no sanctions on the Corporation. It’s up to us to act. The Judge awarded £60,000 damages to be paid to McDonald’s. Helen and Dave intend to take this matter to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the UK’s unfair and oppressive libel laws.

The case has been described by the media as the biggest Corporate PR disaster in history. Attempts were made by McDonald's executives during the trial to keep the matter as quiet as possible and for a public apology be given by Helen and Dave. Both requests were denied.

During the trial, Helen and Dave had an up-to-date Internet site named "McSpotlight", which can be accessed at http://www.mcspotlight.org and is still made available. It has since been accessed over 18 million times, and during the month of the verdict, was accessed over 2 million times. A New Zealand McSpotlight site is also available for those that want to know more. This mirrors the UK site. It can be accessed at http://www.ch.planet.gen.nz/~mcspot It has vast amounts of information, links and the full details of the trials and pre-trials.

The Human Rights Action Group continues to strive to fight for equality and making that difference in the world count! We bring you news and actions from all over the world and ways for you to help the many good causes. Now’s the time to help us, help those that need help. Come along to our weekly meetings in the Student Union Building, Meeting Room 3 every Thursday from 12-2pm. During the early 20th century, the Princess of Belgium was Princess Stephanie who was a strong supporter for Human Rights herself. We’re all very friendly people, so please don’t be shy. Come and talk to one of us today! You’re probably thinking, the world’s too big and I’m too small. What can I do? We’re not asking you to save the world, just make that difference in the world! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me or any other committee member.


Ken Wright

Human Rights Action Group

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