Rainforests, soya beans, chickens, two Greenpeaces and repentance?

IssueMay 2006
Comment by The Mole

The Mole is fascinated by some of the strange cults found above ground. You might have noticed one which has been particularly prominent in recent weeks, which seems to be very into S&M imagery (that's S&M as in sado-masochism, not as in the abbreviation for what's left of Yugoslavia).

For what else is the innocent observer to make of models and pictures of a grisly 2000-year-old method of execution being flaunted everywhere? [“Jesus died for his own sins - not mine!” -Ed.] This is definitely a cult which should be confined to consenting adults in private. But The Mole's attention has been particularly drawn to a saying prevalent in that cult - something to do with the value of a sinner who repenteth. Which seems an appropriate way of looking at the unexpected, though welcome, recent behaviour of the folks at Greenpeace.

Untoward activities

Imperial Greenpeace (as they're jovially known in radical circles, to distinguish them from the original and more greatly loved London Greenpeace Group) have been having a go at McDonald's. They say that chickens killed for MuckD's “meals” have been fed on soya beans grown in Brazil, where the rainforest has been cut down by the soya growers. So to make their point, campaigners dressed as chickens invaded McD premises in several parts of Britain.

Perhaps it doesn't, at first, seem such a great surprise for these environmentalists to take up the issue. Unless, that is, you've been reading revelations From the Molehill for some years, in which case you'll already have savoured the irony of the situation - and seen the relevance of sinners and repentance.

It all goes back to the summer of `94, and the start of the famous McLibel trial. There can be few PN readers unaware of the heroic struggle of Helen Steel and Dave Morris, spending three years in court defending themselves against accusations that they'd libelled McD by distributing a London Greenpeace leaflet criticising the burger bar chain for all manner of untoward activities.

Self-inflicted wounds

Even before the length of the trial broke so many records, the mere fact that people were - for the first time - standing up to McD's legal attacks attracted lots of media attention. And although the burgermongers didn't then know they were going to face the greatest self-inflicted PR disaster in corporate history, they were naturally keen to get their retaliation in first anyway. So on the eve of the trial, McD went on the press offensive...

Meanwhile, big Greenpeace (presumably making the same corporate-style assumptions as McDonald's) were convinced that two poverty-stricken activists, defending themselves, were bound to be trounced by the multi-million pound legal resources of McD.

And they were obviously concerned that a legal rout for two London Greenpeacers might reflect badly on Greenpeace UK. (One might at this stage suggest is would be GP UK's own fault, for choosing - when setting up in the 1970s - to knowingly use the same name as a pre-existing, though rather smaller, bunch of campaigners. But that's another story.)

Anarchist troublemakers

So what did big GP do? Did they decide to pitch in and support the beleaguered duo? Did they denounce McD for the use of this country's notorious libel laws to try to silence their critics?

Actually, no. Their then chief, (Lord) Peter Melchett, issued an official Greenpeace UK statement for McD to use in their PR onslaught. In the statement, London Greenpeace was denounced as a bunch of anarchist troublemakers who had nothing to do with nice big respectable cuddly Imperial GP, who would never be so silly as to criticise a worthy company like McDonald's.

To compound the irony, one of the allegedly libellous items in the “offending” leaflet was the accusation that McDonald's were responsible for destruction of Brazilian rainforest. And since the onus of proof falls on libel case defendants, then - lacking the investigatory resources that a bigger organisation might have - this was one part of the case that Dave and Helen didn't win.

See more of: The Molehill