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Case #47

Exposing Corporate Abuses of McDonalds Corp.


In 1990, two unemployed anti-corporate activists in London changed the face of legal campaigning against corporations by refusing to roll over in the face of intimidation from one of the world's best-known companies: McDonald's. In doing so, they sparked off the longest-running trial in English legal history - which quickly became known as the 'McLibel' case.

In 1990, McDonald's served libel writs on five London Greenpeace volunteers for handing out leaflets attacking almost all aspects of the corporation's business - accusing them of exploiting children through advertising, promoting an unhealthy diet, exploiting their staff and being responsible for environmental damage and ill-treatment of animals. To the corporation's surprise, two of the accused, Dave Morris and Helen Steel, refused to back down. Instead, they began a thorough defence of their case.

Their trial began in 1994. When it ended, three years later, it had become the longest-running trial in English history. It had cost Morris and Steel - who, denied legal aid had mounted their own defence against McDonald's litany of lawyers - nothing. It cost the corporation millions of pounds. The judge's verdict was mixed, but it upheld or partially upheld a number of the charges against the corporation, and although costs were awarded against Steel and Morris, they refused, and were unable, to pay them.

Overall, the trial became an expensive and embarrassing public relations disaster for the corporation. The defence served to publicly expose a number of unsavoury corporate practices, and to stimulate growing dissent against McDonald's. It helped spark dramatic protests against the fast-food giant around the world. The combination of a dramatic legal defence, grass-roots pressure and a well-orchestrated public media campaign, including the posting of many 'discovered' internal McDonald's documents up on the Internet, sent McDonald's into effective retreat when the company finally dropped its attempt to recover financial damages. Meanwhile, the anti-McDonald's leaflet, originally only seen by a handful of people on the streets of London, has now been seen in its millions around the world. (complete text)


Location: London, UK
Action: Legal
Setting: Developed World
Extent of Action: National
Issues: Corporate/Economic Abuses
Year(s): 1994
Outcome successful
Source: The Ecologist, Vol.30, No.7, October 2000. See also New Internationalist, July 1997, p.31 for an in


Prepared By: Preparer: rja 5/01
Rating: 1
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