LAW533 – Lecture 7
McDonald’s v Steel and Morris
Where did this litigation take place? From our standpoint, in a course on CSR and the law in Canada, is the
location of the litigation significant? Why or why not?
o McDonald’s brought a lawsuit for defamation (a private law action; standard of proof is on a balance of
probabilities) in the UK against environmental activists Steel & Morris who stated they were part of
London Greenpeace, even though they’re not (to attract attention)
Can show that they were deceitful; they were “passing off” as part of Greenpeace even though
o The location of the litigation is significant because the Canadian legal system is similar to the UK legal
What are the facts leading up to the litigation?
o Steel & Morris stated that McDonald’s was responsible for starvation of the third world, destroying
forests, serving unhealthy foods with a risk of cancer, lying about its use of recycled paper, exploiting
children through ads, and treating its employees poorly
Who is the plaintiff? Who is the defendant?
o Plaintiff -> McDonald’s | Defendants -> Steel & Morris
What type of legal action is involved?
o Defamation (private/tort law)
What is the legal test for liability?
o Plaintiff must prove (i.e. Elements of Defamation):
Plaintiff has to show that the defendant actually communicated these statements (i.e. the defendants
“published” the material -> they told a third party)
The statement tarnished the reputation of the plaintiff
Once the above is proven, the defendant will be liable unless they can establish a defence that the
statements are true, or that what they said was fair comment (i.e. opinion)
What is the conclusion of the court?
o Steel & Morris were both required to pay; McDonald’s won -> court backed them up that many of the
statements made were not proved (i.e. vindication for McDonald’s)
o On the other hand, there were some statements made that were true -> statements in regard to their
treatment of animals
There was evidence to back some of these statements
o Some people believed that Steel & Morris actually won -> Steel & Morris were unemployed, and this case
showed that McDonald’s were bullies
McDonald’s won in the court, but lost in the public eye
Other McDonald’s Material (Pork-Raising Move)
Why is McDonald’s doing the various CSR things they are doing in this material?
o McDonald’s is engaging some of its critics by demonstrating concern about issues such as animal welfare
Based on a reading of the material in this chapter, has the McDonald’s CSR approach evolved?
o Yes, they are now striving to provide healthier alternatives; they made the size smaller, offer apple slices
instead of fries for the happy meals, and are offering salad
What are the legal dimensions to the various CSR things McDonald’s is doing?
o By making CSR commitments, McDonald’s has essentially created a contract with its customers; failing to
live up to those standards can result in legal issues
From a legal standpoint, what is the relevance of the McDonald’s CSR approach to others in the fast food
o McDonald’s acts as a role model to other companies, and can lead the industry to becoming more
sustainable From a legal standpoint, what is the relevance of the CSR approach of others in the fast food sector to the CSR
approach of McDonald’s?
o Others may influence McDonald’s; e.g. since it has been shown that there’s a market for people who
prefer healthier foods, McDonald’s has implemented healthier alternatives in its menu
Who is behind the legislation that is discussed in these articles?
o In some US states, and also at the federal level, companies who were accused of causing obesity were
successful in getting legislatures to implement a law that protects these companies
o The schools make money by having Coke & Pepsi in their vending machines
Claim -> C & P would go to schools and sell their products, even if they knew it was unhealthy and
o C & P said they volun