Dave Morris and Helen Steel are members of activist group London Greenpeace. They produce a leaflet extolling the reasons as to why they are opposed to the McDonald’s chain of restaurants with reasons given such as animal cruelty, deforestation so that land can be created for their cattle to graze and the company’s hatred of trade union activity within their workplaces. They are then served a writ by the company. Whilst others have issued a public apology when this has happened in the past (Channel 4 News and Linda McCartney being two such examples) they choose to take on the multinational corporation in the courts.
This documentary is stunning. There were many moments when my mouth dropped open in disbelief at what I was seeing and the lengths McDonald’s went to in response to Dave and Helen’s criticisms of them. There was a sudden influx of new members to the group. Helen remarked to Dave that it wouldn’t surprise her if these new members were actually spies from McDonald’s. Dave says she’s being paranoid. But she wasn’t. The new members were plants from the corporation to keep tabs on group activities and what they were planning to do next. What’s more, these infiltrators who were really private investigators employed by Ronald and co. were also receiving information from The Metropolitan Police regarding the group and it’s members.
Also, Dave’s young son attends an after-school club. Out of nowhere, it’s announced that none other than Ronald McDonald (and his minders) would be paying a visit to the club, encouraging kids to eat at McDonald’s. What a coincidence.
I love the David vs Goliath aspect to this film. Two people who say that their consciences wouldn’t allow them to apologise to a big corporation just because they were faced with legal action is utterly fantastic and shows that principles and beliefs still count for something in the world.
The outcome is a Pyrrhic victory for the company- they win the case and Helen and Dave are ordered to pay £60,000 (which they say they won’t pay out of principal and because they don’t have the money to pay it anyway. McDonald’s don’t pursue the payment) but McDonald’s legal fees were much higher than this. And whilst some points made in the London Greenpeace leaflet were found to be libellous, the judge found half of the points made by the pair to be true.
But the greatest triumph was that it was shown that if you don’t back down, sometimes the outcome isn’t as bad as you think it will be. If you have truth and principles on your side then even the might of a huge multinational corporation can be squashed.
The young solicitor who assists Dave and Helen is none other than Keir Starmer who is now, of course, the leader of the Labour Party here in the UK.
The slaughterhouse footage won’t just make you stop eating at McDonald’s but also have you thinking about becoming vegetarian.
This is a terrific documentary that shows that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. McLibel is the kind of honest and brave filmmaking that makes the documentary genre so important.
4.5 stars out of 5