McLibel

Burger Culture on Trial

Two environmentalists take on a multinational, multibillion-dollar-a-year corporation

“A tumultuously exciting story of corporate litigation against citizen’s free speech that continues to boomerang around the world to the disadvantage of McDonald’s and any would-be corporate imitators.” —Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and co-author of No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America

McLibel is the unlikely but true story of how a pamphlet called “What’s Wrong with McDonald’s?” led to the longest trial in British history. In what has become front-page news around the globe, the trial pitted the multibillion dollar corporation against five members of London Greenpeace accused by McDonald’s of libel. Three activists capitulated and apologized; two persevered.

McLibel tells the story of the “McLibel Two” and the two-and-a-half-year trial in which the jeans–clad and impoverished defendants represented themselves against the best powdered-wig lawyers McDonald’s could buy.

Does the fast-food chain exploit children? Depress wages? Level South and Central American rain forests? Subject its cattle and chicken to mass slaughters? A final chapter explores these allegations and details the $98,000 verdict against the activists Morris and Steel, which is widely viewed as a moral victory for the defendants and a public relations fiasco for McDonald’s.

Environmental reporter John Vidal covered all two and a half years of the trial. In the tradition of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, he brings this David and Goliath story to life, shedding light on the corporate machinations of a secretive multinational company, the British legal system, and the implications for any individuals inclined to critique a $30-billion-a-year powerhouse.

Praise

“An excellent history of McDonalds [that] . . . more than showing the archaic and baffling nature of British libel laws, ties in the global corporate culture in which McDonalds is a major player.”
Tribune (UK)
“In America, public criticism of a public institution is part of the right of free speech. . . . The McLibel case shows [British] civil law working at its expensive worst—a ponderous and leisurely sledgehammer that has been trundled out to crack a nut.”
—John Mortimer, Sunday Times (London)
“Entertaining and informative.”
The Guardian
“In my dreams, McLibel will be a comic musical, with ba-boom! noises when the McLibel Two trick an opposition expert medical witness into agreeing with a passage of the alleged libel, a lawyers’ can-can led by Ronald McDonald, a soprano vegetarian emoting about the evils of indoctrinating the young while letting slip that she has personally lectured 30,000 schoolchildren on vegetarianism. . . . [But] even told seriously, the story compels.”
—Libby Purves, The Times (London)
“McCensorship is hitting America. ‘Shut up and eat.’ Or read this brave book and fight for free speech and safe food.”
—John Stauber, editor of PR Watch and co-author of Mad Cow U.S.A. and Toxic Sludge Is Good for You
“A fascinating case study for why Americans hold the Bill of Rights so dear, and a rollicking good read. Vidal brings this tale of free speech, corporate responsibly, and how they collide to life.”
—Nadine Strossen, national president of the American Civil Liberties Union and professor of law at New York Law School