A Corporation Under Attack
McDonald’s extraordinary success comes at a price.
Its 30,000 franchised branches in prime sites in over 120 countries makes it a living symbol of the US abroad. And the golden arches of McDonald's often inspire great support and animosity.
Its defenders, usually on the right, point to the arrival of McDonald’s in a country as a marker of middle-class affluence and aspiration, a sign of economic efficiency and improved infrastructure, and an index of social progress with orderly queues, clean washrooms and happy children.
Its detractors, usually on the left, see McDonald’s as American, authoritarian, abusive of animals, exploitative of workers, unhealthy, unecological, and ruthlessly profiteering.
For animal rights activists, or those who dislike industrial corporate capitalism or US foreign policy, the local branch of McDonald’s with its big bright windows becomes an easy target.
In recent years branches of McDonald’s have been attacked in America , Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Finland, France, Holland, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and UK.
Other protests against McDonald's have captured the public imagination.
When the European Union refused to accept imports of American hormone-enhanced beef, the USA in response, under World Trade Organization rules, put tariffs on foie gras, Roquefort cheese and other European farm products.
A French farmer called Jose Bové got nine other farmers to drive their tractors through, and thus wreck, a half-built McDonald’s in protest. When he was tried, 40,000 people rallied outside the courthouse.
For his actions, Bové was briefly imprisoned.
Other farmers filled a McDonald’s branch with apples, another with chickens, geese, turkeys and ducks. Bové said the struggle was between two ways of farming and eating, between real food from real farmers and industrial agriculture under corporate control.
In England, two demonstrators from Greenpeace, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, got involved in the longest libel trial in British legal history when in 1990 McDonald’s sued them for the leaflet “What’s wrong with McDonald’s” that they had been handing out for four years.
The company said every statement in it was libellous and wrong. After much legal wrangling the trial began in 1994.
Two and half years later the judge delivered his verdict. McDonald’s won its case and was awarded £60,000 damages.
But the trial had been a public relations disaster for the company because it had to defend its practices over three years of legal wrangling all under press scrutiny.
Morris and Steel, a postman and a gardener, had, through the evidence presented in the case, and through their cross examination, forced a giant corporation to expose numerous practices it likely would have preferred to keep quiet.
These practices, also discussed in the findings of Justice Rodger Bell, include how children were “exploited” in McDonald's advertisements, how it endangered the health of customers who ate there too often, how it paid low wages and barred trade unions, and how it had a responsibility for the cruelty to animals inflicted by its suppliers of beef and chicken.
The trial also revealed how McDonald’s had employed detectives to spy on the protestors and had obtained information on them from the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police.
Appeals then took the case to the House of Lords and then the European Court of Human Rights, continuing the embarrassment for McDonald's.
McDonald's have tried to avoid further publicity about this case.
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