McOverturned on McAppeal
February 15, 2005 8:25 AM   Subscribe

You may have heard of the "McLibel Two", the pair of Brits who, as part of a group called London Greenpeace (not affiliated with Greenpeace International, by the by), published a flier decrying the nutritional and corporate values of McDonalds, and who subsequently lost a libel action brought against them by the corporation. It took a few years, but The European Court of Human Rights has overturned the decision, based on the fact that the two did not receive legal aid assistance during the trial (where they represented themselves).
posted by PinkStainlessTail (21 comments total)
the Independent has a story, too
posted by matteo at 8:31 AM on February 15, 2005


Really, something must be done about the money inequity of legal procedings. If a corporation sues you, you're fucked.
posted by delmoi at 8:35 AM on February 15, 2005

Are they going to get their money back? And then some, preferably.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:44 AM on February 15, 2005

I take it therefore they are entitled to a retrial.

It would be amusing if they went through the whole process again, although I doubt McDonalds will want to go there a second time.
posted by bap98189 at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2005

Can you sue a party for damages, if they lose and you end up having to spend a lot of money and time to defend yourself?
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:54 AM on February 15, 2005

Wait, so the government was required to provide legal reprentation for the pair? Were there no lawyers or legal clinics willing to take the case pro-bono at the time?
posted by gyc at 9:35 AM on February 15, 2005

I should point out that the European Court of Human Rights has not overturned the decision as such, but has decided that the McLibel pair should have received legal aid. So, yeah, they'll probably go for a retrail and hopefully then get the first verdict overruled.
posted by armoured-ant at 9:35 AM on February 15, 2005

"It is important to note, although the so-called 'McLibel' case came to court in 1994, the allegations related to practices in the 80s. The world has moved on since then and so has McDonald's."

Give that spokesperson a raise!

But seriously, the allegations of animal cruelty are just as relevant today as they were in the 80's. Also, although they have added supposed "healthier" items to their menu, the older ones are still there and the last time I checked, their nutrition guide is still just as useless.

Oh, maybe they have stopped targeting children in their advertising? Wrong again.
posted by purephase at 9:44 AM on February 15, 2005

from bbc link: "The court is not an EU institution and has no powers of enforcement. The convention is separate from EU law, but serves as a basis for it, and provides often-followed precedents."

So... this means absolutely nothing, then? I mean, it would be weird enough if it was an EU court-- there are still some nations in the Union that like sovereignty, and precedent is still being set on that-- but a court that's not even part of the EU?

I usually disdain those who throw around the label "activist judges," but this is a bit ridiculous. It seems as though there are weird courts all over Europe now judging on all matters without any enforcement or meaning whatsoever. This should've been resolved in England; I only hope it still can be. It sounds like it was sort of taxing on the system there; but a sovereign nation can't just export its legal proceedings.
posted by koeselitz at 10:19 AM on February 15, 2005

Wow. That's great news. For years the consolation was "they lost the case, but won in the court of public opinion because it created so much bad publicity for McDonald's." Now if there is a retrial - especially with the way both science and the culture have advanced in the past decade - they could actually win and kick Mickey D's ass. Even if it doesn't get to trial, though, the new surge of publicity is a great bonus.

And to follow up on purephase... well, at least McDonald's has eliminated trans fats like they promised to years ago, right? Wrong again.
posted by soyjoy at 10:26 AM on February 15, 2005

The court hasn't overturned the verdict: just said that they should have been granted legal aid.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:03 AM on February 15, 2005

If what's in that linked site is what was handed out to people, they will just lose again. It has lots of flat-out accusations without supporting evidence, or confusing supporting evidence.

Lethal poisons to create cattle grazing grounds? Not lethal, then, obviously.

Not only are McDonald's and many other corporations contributing to a major ecological catastrophe

Well, let's see, 20 years late and no catastrophe. This flyer is creating it's own bad evidence. Going over old ecological whaaaaaambulance predictions from other nuts, this comes as no suprise at all to me.

McDonald's prefer the name "fast-food". This is not just because it is manufactured and serve up as quickly as possible - it has to be eaten quickly too

Again, McDonald's will have ZERO trouble proving their processed food stays edible for a lot longer than fresh food.

McDonald's food is so lacking in bulk it is hardly possible to chew it

Again, McDonald's will prove the opposite handily. This could be done reverse OJ style, give greenpeace london a hamburger and have them show the judge how it is eaten without chewing.

MEAT is responsible for 70% of all food-poisoning incidents

Again, McDonald's is going to easily prove this not to be true.

I haven't even gotten into some of the softer libel that's in there, like "trapping" children into buying from McDonald's through flashy advertising.

It's not that I think McDonald's is right to sue them for this (it's pointless, that AD just served to make me think the writers are a bunch of insane morons -- nobody with half a brain would listen to that tripe), but McDonald's will just crush these people again, without trouble.
posted by shepd at 11:34 AM on February 15, 2005

It gives calorie information and macronutrient breakdowns. It might not be as complete as you'd like, but it's a far cry from useless.

Try to find one in a restaurant that is accurate and up-to-date. Or, for that matter, try to find a knowledgeable staff person that can answer any questions regarding the information contained in the guide.

Believe me, I was a manager at McDonald's (in my earlier, less-than-proud-of years) and there is absolutely zero initiative within the organization to improve either of these situations within the restaurants because there is no significant cost benefit to doing so (given the training-to-sales cost ratio).

I can't see that changing anytime soon.
posted by purephase at 11:37 AM on February 15, 2005

I found an up-to-date guide on the internet. In thirty seconds.

So did I. But we also have internet connections available to us and the requisite knowledge on how to locate information. There are McDonald's restaurants located all over the world. In many locations I doubt that even if internet connectivity is available it is probably not cheap. Also, without the knowledge of how to use a web browser, a lot of people are left with the only other alternative - the information provided in the restaurants.

Yeah. That's a really efficient use of resources.

I do not think it is unreasonable to believe that at least one staff person has basic knowledge of what is in the food they are serving or, better yet, easy access to that information. The pamphlet used by the defendents in the McLibel suit was biased and poorly written from the animal cruelty/vegan-vegetarian standpoint, but nutritional information can also benefit others with specific religious beliefs and, most importantly, people suffering from food allergies.
posted by purephase at 2:59 PM on February 15, 2005

The leaflet is pretty hard to defend because it makes some claims that are either exagerated, or that rely on over simplification. However the fact remains that these people should not have been taken to court over this.

They did not write the leaflet, they only distributed it.

They were only distributing it in a small area to a small number of people.

It was obvious that McDonalds never thought in a million years they would have to go to court over this - if they did they could have easily predicted that they'd be in for a long, expensive court case.

McDonalds is an incredibly rich and powerful company that spends hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising every year all over the world. The McLibel two had a photocopier, a poorly written leaflet and not much else. To treat these two parties as in some way comparable is ridiculous. What next? Would McDonalds start suing people who gave bad word-of-mouth to their restaurants?

I understand that the McLibel two believe that we should be able to freely criticise any corporation without fear of prosecution, the assertions in the leaflet were secondary as far as they were concerned. I tend to agree with them.

I'd suggest to anyone interested to pick up a copy of McLibel by John Vidal which covers the case very well and tries to be, dare I say it, fair and balanced.
posted by dodgygeezer at 3:03 PM on February 15, 2005

I went to the two McDonald's closest to my store and both had a full stock of huge map-sized fold out nutirition guides.

How much better do you want than that?
posted by shepd at 4:02 PM on February 15, 2005

Perhaps they're worried that fast food could be the next tobacco.
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 4:25 PM on February 15, 2005

I remember a courtroom conversation from the original case, where a lawyer for McDonald's said that their premix Coke drinks were "nutritional" because they "contained water"!!!

Love his work.

Also, I'd like to repeat the question asked by koeselitz: So... this means absolutely nothing, then?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:32 PM on February 15, 2005

There won't be a re-trial.

The judgment says that there was a breach of the McLibel Two's Human Rights because no legal aid was available to them. The judgment is non-binding but European Court of Human Rights judgments tend to be followed.

Libel is a civil matter and there have been huge cuts in civil legal aid. The government has recently started slashing criminal legal aid. This is an interesting spanner in their works.

John Vidal has writen a comment piece.
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 4:39 PM on February 15, 2005

koeselitz, I don't see your quote anywhere in the linked BBC article but you might want to read up on the European Court of Human Rights.

It seems as though there are weird courts all over Europe now judging on all matters without any enforcement or meaning whatsoever.

It only seems like that if you have no idea what you are talking about.
posted by ninebelow at 4:50 AM on February 16, 2005

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