Saturday, 19 June 2010

McLibel - McDonald's failed attempt to silence campaigners highlighting their unethical behaviour

Today is the 13th Anniversary of the ending of the Mclibel case.   The case was the longest running court case in English legal history taking two and half years and pitted the corporate giant McDonald's against two activists, Helen Steel and Dave Morris.  The pair had published leaflets highlighting McDonald's unethical and environmentally destructive activities.  McDonald's sued them for libel. Helen and Dave were refused legal aid and had to defend themselves whilst McDonald's hired a top team of lawyers.

Although they were able to prove to the courts satisfaction that McDonald's:
  • did 'exploit children' with their advertising;
  • did produce 'misleading' advertising;
  • were 'culpably responsible' for cruelty to animals
  • were 'antipathetic' to unionisation
  • and did pay their workers low wages.
They were unable to prove that all their allegations were true and were ordered to pay McDonald's £60,000. They of course didn't.

In March 1999 the Court of Appeal ruled further in their favour acknowledging that it was true that
"if one eats enough McDonald's food, one's diet may well become high in fat etc., with the very real risk of heart disease."
They reduce the damages to £40,000 which Helen and Dave didn't pay.

Instead they took the UK government to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that the UK's law impeded the public's right to criticise multinationals. They won. The Court of Human Rights accepted that the trial had breached their rights to freedom of expression and a fair trial.

McDonald's got large legal bills and lots of bad publicity. They however continued their unethical business practices. 

There is a full length movie McLibel which tells the story.

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