As Tesco pursues libel claims against two Thai journalists, a former Thai MP and The Guardian, it should reflect on McLibel
My mum comes back from Thailand with a front page news cutting from the Pattaya Mail headlined 'Protests against Tesco turn ugly as crowd burns coffin'. Inside, there's a vivid colour picture of locals burning the cardboard coffin that symbolises the death of small shops if the first Tesco Lotus Express outlet goes ahead in a neighbouring town. According to angry Chonburi shopkeepers, authorities are letting the store open against local wishes, and the decision-making process has not been "an impartial one".
I should be twitchy about reporting this, lest a writ from Tesco's lawyers lands on my desk, or that of the editor of The Grocer, or even that of my mum. Tesco is already suing two Thai journalists and a former Thai MP for damages running into millions of pounds for daring to comment, variously, that Tesco does not "love" Thais, and suggesting that the company is "aggressive". They face two years in jail. Still on the litigation warpath, Tesco is also after The Guardian for alleging it has used offshore companies to avoid tax.
A word of advice to Tesco - McLibel. Has collective amnesia afflicted the company's top brass ? Remember what happened to the-then litigious McDonald's when the burger giant decided to sue two London anarchists for distributing leaflets bad-mouthing it? The agitprop protagonists became public martyrs and were subsequently immortalised as doughty fighters against an evil global corporation with worse PR than Darth Vader. The high-profile trial went on for two and a half years, doing the company a million times more damage than a few little leaflets ever could.
How other more savvy supermarkets must be smirking as Tesco digs itself into a hole. Instead of taking criticism on the chin, countering specific allegations where appropriate, and continuing with business as usual, Tesco seems hell-bent on reinforcing its growing bully-boy image.
Where does it stop ? There's a long list of journalists (myself included), celebrity foodies, academics and NGOs who have voiced much more robust criticism of Tesco than the unfortunate Thais. Next thing we know, Tesco will want all those books, reports, lectures and articles burnt .
I've news for the boardroom at Cheshunt. If you think you can stop the worldwide anti-Tesco movement, dream on. That horse has well and truly bolted. n
Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of
Bad Food Britain