Ma. Alyssa Valzado

International Classic Case Study - Mclibel Case 1992
McDonald's, a U.S.-based multi-national corporation, spends approximately $2 billion dollars annually on advertising and promotion of its restaurants and products. In expediting the expense of this huge expenditure, McDonald's strongly believes in defending it reputation.  As a result, this defense has often been taken up through legal action, in which the company has secured many apologies from its harshest critics who wanted to avoid legal proceedings.  However, this period of remaining unchallenged came to an end when two activists decided to challenge McDonald's by trying to change its internal policies from the outside.

By the 1990s, McDonald's smooth ride became rather more turbulent. Although it still held onto the crown as king of fast food, the company experienced a number of setbacks. There were new product failures, such as the Arch Deluxe, and various run-ins with environmentalists, anti-capitalists and other activists. One of the most notorious, and certainly one of the most protracted of these confrontations was the libel case involving Helen Steel and Dave Morris.
            The libel action began in 1986 when London Greenpeace produced and disseminated a six-page leaflet entitled, "What's wrong with McDonald's? Everything they don't want you to know."  The leaflet contained criticisms about McDonald's, which the activists accused the corporation of being connected to starvation in Third World countries and the destruction of rainforests.  The leaflet also accused McDonald's of  exploiting children through advertising, being cruel to animals, serving unhealthy food that causes cancer of breast and bowel and heart disease and having bad working conditions. At the end of the leaflet, the group advocates that consumers boycott McDonald's.
London Greenpeace's campaign against the company clearly came from the standpoint of meat-is-murder vegetarianism: a valid perspective, but one for which there is a limited political constituency. What made McLibel take off as a campaign on a par with the ones targeting Nike and Shell was not what the fast-food chain did to cows, forests or even its own workers.
McDonald's first sought action against ‘the McLibel two' over the leaflet in 1990. In fact, the company initially issued libel writs against five activists but three backed down and apologized. For Steel and Morris, however, the threat of legal action also represented an opportunity. The trial could, and indeed did, provide a much larger platform for their views than they would ever have been given standing outside McDonald's restaurants distributing pamphlets.
As it turned out, the trial became the longest in English history, with a staggering total of 313 days in court. And as the trial developed, so too did the media interest. Pretty soon, millions of people knew exactly what was being discussed in that courtroom. Every single statement made in the original pamphlet was discussed and dissected not only in court, but in news studios around the world. In No Logo, Naomi Klein highlights the protracted nature of the case:
With 180 witnesses called to the stand, the company endured humiliation after humiliation as the court heard stories of food poisoning, failure to pay legal overtime, bogus recycling claims and corporate spies sent to infiltrate the ranks of London Greenpeace. In one particularly telling incident, McDonald's executives were challenged on the company's claim that it serves ‘nutritious food': David Green, senior vice president of marketing, expressed his opinion that Coca-Cola is nutritious because it is ‘providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet.'
Whichever side of the fence they sat, most commentators agreed on one thing: the longer the trial went on, the more damaging it was for McDonald's public image. In any case, the actual facts of the case were too complicated for most observers to be able to understand clearly - the judge's verdict document was over 1,000 pages long.
When the verdict was finally announced on 19 June 1997, McDonald's were able to claim victory as Steel and Morris were ordered to pay damages. The allegations in the pamphlet linking McDonald's to food poisoning, cancer and third-world poverty were deemed by the judge as unsupportable. However, McDonald's was not able to undo the damage caused by the lengthy trial. On 20 June 1997, the Guardian newspaper observed that: ‘Not since Pyrrhus has a victor