Protesters try to halt rise of fast-food giant in Italy
Rory Carroll in Rome and Andy Murdoch
Tuesday October 17, 2000
Riot police were mobilised yesterday to protect McDonald's restaurants as thousands of demonstrators in 20 Italian cities declared
war on the fast-food chain.
In Milan, marchers flung raw meat through police lines, splattering restaurant windows with blood. But most of the protests were
more peaceful, with crowds in Rome, Naples, Palermo and Turin chanting: "Better a day of tortellini than 100 days of hamburgers."
Organisers of the protests have said they will intensify their campaign, predicting that Italy will overtake France in the strength of its
opposition to the chain.
The government promised to set up a task force to draw up a charter of principles for multinational companies. The charter, to be
agreed with trade unions, was intended to defuse hostility by acting as a "civic defender", said the industry minister, Enrico Letta.
He added: "It would be a mistake to create a climate of tension. McDonald's is one of the few foreign companies bringing
investment to our country."
A coalition of leftwing radicals, family-run bars and trade unions hopes to reverse, or at least slow down, McDonald's planned
opening of 200 outlets in the next two years. It says the chain is destroying consumer choice, exploiting staff andselling unhealthy
McDonald's responds that it is employing 15,000 young people and has become hugely popular with families since opening its first
restaurant in Rome 15 years ago.
The countrywide protests were bolstered by controversy over the chain's treatment of staff.
Last week, 20 employees in Florence walked out in protest at an "intimidating" work climate. Around the same time a manager in
Florence raised hackles by disciplining an employee for sipping a soft drink without permission. The worker complained to his
union, which complained to the labour minister, Cesare Salvi.
After meeting the minister, the president of McDonald's in Italy, Mario Resca, promised an inquiry. "The respect and valour of each
of our employees is of the highest priority to McDonald's," he said, adding that the new outlets would create 10,000 jobs.
The chain, which has 272 restaurants in Italy, suffered another blow when trade unions mobilised to defend five employees
reprimanded for eating chocolate chips.
Earlier this month Fausto Bertinotti, leader of the Refounded Communist party, led 100,000 protesters to a McDonald's branch in
Piazza della Repubblica in Rome. Branding its hamburgers a symbol of Americanisation and globalisation, he said he understood
why people physically attacked the restaurants.
The Turin-based Slow Food movement, which champions traditional cooking and eating, joined yesterday's protests. Its
spokesman, Silvio Barbero, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper: "It forces consumers to taste the same hamburger in Tokyo,
New York, Helsinki and Palermo. A McDonald's hamburger doesn't evoke regional tastes or sensations, and its gastronomic origin
is impossible to define."
Ghettoised for years with a combined market share of 5%, McDonald's and Burger King resolved to bring Italy up to the European
average of 25%. Food purists said Italians would never succumb, but they were wrong, with pasta salads and pizza slices boosting
the chains' popularity.
Digested history of McProtest
In the 1980s, McDonald's faced protests in the west after rumours that its beef came from cattle raised on cleared rainforest in
South and Central America. The firm quickly clarified the situation - it demands proof from its suppliers that they use only
long-established cattle ranches and 100% EU beef. But the myth lives on.
In Britain, the 'David and Goliath' McLibel case began in 1994 and saw the company successfully sue Dave Morris and Helen
Steel for allegations they made in a leaflet in the late 80s. It became the longest libel case in English history, lasting over two and
a half years and costing McDonald's £10m.
In summer this year, a French farmer, Jose Bove, roused Gallic sympathy when he was jailed for three months for attacking a
half-built McDonald's in Millau, southern France. He was protesting against US duties on French cheese and the 'McDomination of
It took 13 years for McDonald's to establish a presence on Hampstead High Street, north London, after celebrity opposition from
the likes of Melvyn Bragg, Tom Conti and Margaret Drabble
19/10/00 . Dave Morris and Helen Steel . The Guardian . UK
Letter to the Editor
Protesters try to halt rise of fast-food giant in Italy
Your story on anti-McDonald's demonstrations (Protesters try to halt rise of
fast-food giant in Italy, October 17) gives a taste of the growing global
opposition to the company, marked by protests in over 20 countries on Monday,
UN World Food Day. To understand how this has arisen, we need to look at
what has happened over the last few years.
Contrary to the impression you give, the opposition to McWorld is
well-informed, popular and goes to the heart of their business practices. We
were amused to read that McDonald's "successfully" sued us. They brought the
McLibel case to defend their reputation, but it was left in tatters. The high court
ruled that they "exploit children" with their marketing, "help to depress wages in
the catering industry" and cause "cruelty to animals".
Local community opposition to the siting of new stores has also spread widely.
It's not surprising that they have become a symbol of popular anger against
corporate power and capitalism in general.
Helen Steel and Dave Morris London firstname.lastname@example.org