London Greenpeace, a small London-based environmental group (not part of
Greenpeace International) launched an indictment against the American
multinational What’s wrong with McDonald’ s: Everything they don’t want you to
know. Flyers were distributed accusing McDonald’s of poor quality food,
exploitation of employees, unhealthy marketing methods directed against
children, cruelty to animals, waste and pollution created by the company’s
disposable packaging, with some responsibility for the destruction of South
precisely, the subjects of the pamphlet,
which have become the subjects of dispute in the proceedings, are as follows:
– The link between multi-national societies such as McDonald’s,
cultures of rapport and famine in the Third World.
– The responsibility of companies like McDonald’s for environmental
causes and the destruction of tropical forests.
– waste and harmful effects of the tonnes of packaging used by
McDonald’s and other companies.
– The promotion and sale of low-fibre foods that are high in fat,
saturated fat, sodium and sugar. The links between such a diet and the major
degenerative diseases of western societies, such as heart disease and cancer.
– McDonald’s exploitation of children through advertising and gadgets
to sell food with no nutritional value.
– The barbarian faeon whose animals are bred and slaughtered to supply
material to McDonald’s.
– The appalling conditions under which workers in the food service
industry are forced to work, and McDonald’s low wages.
– McDonald’s hostility towards the unions.
assistance is available for defamation proceedings. McDonald’s may simply
threaten those who criticize it with a libel suit. The burden of proving lies entirely with the defendant, who must
provide’ primary evidence’ (i. e. official documents and direct testimony) for
each point. Books, films, press reports, etc. are not admitted as evidence.
McDonald’s responded to this campaign by filing a libel suit against five
members of the environmental group: Paul Gravett, Andrew Clarke, Jonathan O’
Farrell, David Morris and Helen Steel.
there is no conclusive evidence against the defendants, they face enormous
financial costs to finance the legal proceedings, unless they recant, apologize
for their actions and stop distributing leaflets on the streets.
the five accused preferred to apologize but Steel and Morris refused to submit
and decided to defend themselves against McDonald’s. Although they were denied
legal aid by English institutions, a small community was created to support
them, and some lawyers helped them free of charge in a campaign called the McLibel Support Campaign to set up a
In its libel allegation, Macdonald’s explain that is said in the pamphlet is
In the High Court, the case was tried before a single judge from June 1994 to
December 1996, making it the longest
trial in English judicial history (The
On 19 June
1997, Judgments are rendered with the following reasons for decision: it states
that several points in the pamphlet were abusive and therefore that the
defamation complaint was admissible, but adds that the working conditions in
McDonald’s restaurants could be dangerous to the health of workers, as well as
some misleading advertisements could be dangerous to the health of consumers.
In addition, marketing methods targeting children are strongly criticized in
the report. Cruelty inflicted on animals is also cited, as well as the
company’s “antipathy” about union formation in its restaurants and
McDonald’s policy of very low wages.
Steel and Morris were forced to pay £60,000 in damages to the company, a
decision which they immediately appealed, the cost of the proceedings was much
higher for McDonald’s.
was made on 12 January 1999 to 26 February of the same year.
The Court of Appeal recognized that some of the allegations in
London Greenpeace’s pamphlet were true, particularly those concerning the
mistreatment of employees and accusations that McDonald’s food could promote
certain cardiovascular diseases.
decision was subsequently upheld on appeal on the merits. The damages awarded were reduced from £60,000 (GBP) to GBP
40,000 by the Court of Appeal, which also closed the door to appeals before the
House of Lords, and Steel and Morris had been denied legal aid throughout the
trial and appeal proceedings. They had defended themselves with the help of a
few volunteer lawyers.
an application with the European Court of Human Rights on 20 September 2000,
complaining about a procedure made unfair by the fact that they had been denied
legal aid, even though they were unpaid and dependent on social assistance.
Second Judgement (McLibel
decision of the English Court of Appeal, Steel and Morris felt that their trial
had not proceeded properly and decided to ultimately appeal to the Law Lords
for denial of their right to legal aid during the trial. The Law Lords having
rejected this request, the duo put together a file in order to refer the matter
to the European Court of Human Rights,
basing their legal arguments on one aspect of English law preventing the
granting of legal aid during a civil trial.
complainants also complained about the outcome of the proceedings, which they
considered constituted a disproportionate obstacle to the exercise of their
freedom of expression. With regard to the first complaint, taken from Article 6 § 1, the Court held that the
refusal to grant them jurisdictional assistance had deprived the applicants of
the opportunity to defend their arguments effectively before the court and had
contributed to the inequality of arms between the applicants and McDonald’s,
which, for this complex procedure of 313 days and generating 40,000 pages of
documents, had enlisted the services of lawyers of first and second rank.
to the second complaint, on 15 February 2005, the Court finds that article 10 of the Convention had been violated.
In her view, while article 10 does not prohibit in principle that, in
defamation proceedings, it is incumbent on the defendant to prove the
truthfulness of the disputed statements, it is essential that where a legal
remedy is available to a large multinational to defend itself against
defamatory allegations, the opposite principle of free expression and open
debate is guaranteed by the fairness of the procedure and equality of arms.
also emphasized the general interest in promoting the free flow of information
and ideas about the activities of powerful business entities and the
“chilling effect” of defamation damages in this type of context.
the Strasbourg Court held that the damages awarded, GBP 40 000 for damage to
McDonald’s reputation, were disproportionate to the legitimate aim of
protecting McDonald’s rights and reputation. Because of the lack of fairness in
the proceedings and the disproportionate nature of the damages awarded, the
Court concludes that there was a violation of section 10 in this case, which
the media had referred to as “McLibel (McDefamation)”.
It ordered the United Kingdom to pay EUR 35,000
to the applicants as moral damages and EUR 47,311 for costs and expenses
relating to the proceedings in Strasbourg.
of this affair for McDonald’s UK
affair was a disaster for McDonald’s Company. The cost of the case was
estimated at around £10,000,000 for the multinational in legal costs, and above
all, its brand image was heavily damaged by the case. The creation of the
McSpotlight website and the media coverage of the trial galvanized
anti-McDonald’s campaigns around the world. As a result of this lawsuit,
anti-McDonald’s campaigns have become more effective, and environmental
activists are joining forces with those fighting for labour rights, those
fighting for public health and those fighting against censorship. According to
Naomi Klein, the procedure conducted by Steel and Morris is one of the
“first great victories of the alterglobalisation moneys” (Klein, 2000).
of the trial is discussed in his book No Logo. The McLibel is also used by Eric
Schlosser in his book Fast Food Nation to show that procedures against fast
food can be successful by will.
to the report submitted by the European Court of Human Rights, Steel and Morris
largely defeating McDonald’s, we have now highlighted the very oppressive laws
in the UK regarding defamation. As a result of the report issued by the
European Court of Human Rights, the UK government will be forced to amend or
amend some existing laws. We hope this case will encourage the general public
to be more critical of large companies like McDonald’s, which are dangerous to
public health and the environment. The McLibel campaign has proven that with a
determined organization, it is possible to challenge those who try to silence
us, whether they are multinationals or governments. The growing opposition to
McDonald’s and what it represents is a justification for the efforts of all
those around the world who are trying to expose and denounce the practices of
certain large corporations.
heartbreaking defeat McDonald’s had to react, this is what it does through
advertising campaign and a brand new one that it but in place under the name of
« I’m lovin’ it ».