The Viva Vine: vol #6, no #1: January / February, 1997


There's a new lesson for today's multinational

McLibel trial verdict in the offing

Whew! the McLibel bench trial is finally in the hands of the judge. Yes, it's been two and a half years since the trial, dubbed McLibel, first started the David-and-Goliath battle between McDonald's and two un- or underemployed environmental activists. Finally, it is time for a verdict.

The McLibel trial has turned out to be the longest civil trial in English legal history. It was supposed to take three or four weeks; but due to the United Kingdom's libel laws (which the defendants call oppressive), McDonald's has been allowed to sue over a wide range of commonsense views, views which were printed in a pamphlet distributed by London Greenpeace, an environmental group-no relation to the more well-known environmental group with the same name.

The pamphlet, entitled "What's Wrong With McDonald's? Everything They Don't Want You to Know," simply lists obvious facts about the burger giant, pointing them all out in one place to hammer it home that McDonald's promotes an unhealthy diet, buys rainforest beef, exploits animals and its employees, and unfairly targets children with its advertising campaigns.

Though the two McLibel defendants did not write the pamphlet, they courageously agreed to defend it. Acting without lawyers, Dave Morris and Helen Steel called top level McDonald's executives, among others, to the stand, to quiz them on the nutrient value of soft drinks and burgers and to clarify the wage scales of McDonald's employees.

They wrote in early November regarding the trial:

"Rather than succeeding in silencing their critics, McDonald's' efforts have backfired, provoking growing public protest all over the world - 2 million leaflets have been handed out in the UK alone since the writs were served on us, and thousands of people have pledged to continue to distribute leaflets whatever the verdict in the case. Now there's even an Internet site (called 'McSpotlight') devoted to making available worldwide at the push of a button everything McDonald's doesn't want people to know about but have failed to stop people from finding out."

Although McDonald's won't reveal the amount, even to their own shareholders, some reports put the McDonald's legal bill for the trial at $17 million.

And so, regardless of the outcome of this case, a new era has been ushered in for our globally corporate world. In a time when corporate power is at an apex and still growing, corporations may now have to think awfully hard before going to trial against activists who are exposing their exploitive and oppressive policies. There's a new lesson for today's multinational: You can't just buy anything you want. $17 million later, evidence goes to judge's chambers

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