A startling case of David and Goliath and the longest trial of any kind in British history. It is about a gardener (Helen Steel) and an unemployed postman (David Morris) taking on McDonald’s. In 1986 London Greenpeace, a group that predates the internationally known Greenpeace distributed a six sided pamphlet entitled "What's Wrong with McDonald’s". It can be found here: http://www.mcspotlight.org/case/pretrial/factsheet.html
The pamphlet had a number of claims including: The poor nutrition of the food, the destruction of the rainforest, litter on city streets, poor treatment of employees and manipulation of children through advertising.
McDonald’s sued for libel. The structure of London Greenpeace meant that McDonald’s had to sue the individual members instead of suing the group as a whole. Three of the members did what most people would do in the face of the multi-billion-dollar rival, they apologized. Helen and Dave alone decided to continue.
The trial was huge, with 180 witnesses from 20 countries*. There is no legal aid for libel* so the activists relied on donations that summed up to 35,000 pounds* from around the world. Part-way through the trial, McDonald’s attempted to settle and pay the activists a large sum to their favorite charity. The two declined since McDonald’s would not agree to their demand: to never sue anyone for speaking out against them again and to apologize to anyone who they already sued.
Five of the witnesses were spies sent by McDonald’s to infiltrate London Greenpeace. One of the five sided with Helen and Dave, claiming that she did not see the group doing anything wrong. Some of the defense claims were hilarious such as David Green, Senior Vice-President of Marketing’s claim that Coca Cola is nutritious because it is “providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet”**, and Executive Ed Oakley that the garbage in landfills is “a benefit, otherwise you will end up with lots of vast empty gravel pits all over the country”**
After 313 days in court**, the judge finally read out the his forty-five-page summary of the verdict (the full verdict was over 1000 pages long). He was unconvinced by some of the claims in the pamphlet such as McDonald’s link to hunger in the Third World, however, he believed others to be true. He found that eating at McDonald’s posed "a very real risk of heart disease" for very regular, long-term McDonald's customers”** and "McDonald’s exploits children by using them, as more susceptible subjects of advertising, to pressurize their parents into going to McDonald's."* Nonetheless, Helen and Dave were fined $95, 490 US** but of course McDonald’s never expected the money. The activists had a huge public following, and you can only fight your own customers for so long.
In July, the two were awarded $15,000 US*** after Scotland Yard admitted that they leaked confidential and false information about Helen and Dave to McDonald’s.
*www.mcspotlight.org. **No Logo. ***AdbustersOctober/November 2000.