Thanks To Public Pressure, General Mills Reverses Dangerous New Legal Terms

April 21, 2014  |  Other, Forced Arbitration

Guest Post by Baron & Budd Shareholder and American Association of Justice President Burton Leblanc

Consider your child has a peanut allergy. You give them a Nature Valley bar with trace amounts of peanuts — however, there was no mention of nuts on the packaging.

Consider your parent who eats Cheerios every morning, thinking it will help them lower their cholesterol. Only, this morning, the Cheerios contain salmonella.

Consider your monthly neighborhood gathering. You brought some bags of corn chips and jars of the Old El Paso salsa. Unfortunately, there was a not so welcome ingredient in the salsa — shards of glass.

What would you do if you could never hold the corporation that made these products and endangered your family accountable in court? Would you be outraged?

On April 2, 2014, General Mills attempted to do just that by adding a forced arbitration clause to the fine print of its terms of service on its website. This new legal policy made it impossible for you to sue the company if you did so much as downloaded a coupon, subscribed to an email newsletter, redeemed a promotion, entered a company-sponsored sweepstake or participated in any “offering” or “joined” in their online communities.

On their website, in a very discreet grey coloring with type so small you could barely see it, it read:

“Please note we also have new legal terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.”

If you clicked on to read more about their new legal terms, you would have found this:

“Of course, your decision to do any of these things (i.e., to use or join our site or online community, to subscribe to our emails, to download or print a digital coupon, to enter a sweepstakes or contest, to take advantage of a promotional offer, or otherwise participate in any other General Mills offering) is entirely voluntary. But if you choose to do any of these things, then you agree to be bound by this Agreement.”

To simplify it: You would have had the choice whether or not to buy General Mills products. But if you interacted with General Mills in any way, you would have lost your right to sue the company should something go wrong.

But that is all gone now. Thanks to you, media outlets and outraged consumers just like you who took a stand and told General Mills that they did not approve of the new measure. Within mere days, the policy had been reversed and General Mills said that they were going back to their previous policy — meaning you are safe to buy your favorite breakfast cereal again.

This is an important moment. One where consumers have been able to see not just the serious implications behind forced arbitration, but also their ability — for now at least — to have a say in the matter.

There is also a lesson to learn with General Mills’ attempt to bind its customers to forced arbitration. The lesson is: You can (sometimes) choose whether or not to buy the product or service, but once you buy, you may be stuck to forced arbitration whether you like it or not. Because often we cannot solve these injustices with a public outcry on social media alone. The only way to end the problem of forced arbitration is for Congress to take action and revoke corporations’ license to break the law.

If you are as outraged as I am, let Congress know today. Write a letter to your elected officials here.

General Mills’ attempt to bind its customers to forced arbitration was not a fluke. Unfortunately forced arbitration has infiltrated nearly all aspects of American life. Americans are still subjected to forced arbitration clauses when they use credit cards, talk on their cell phones, visit websites, start a new job, enroll their children in camps, and even admit a loved one into a nursing home.

Let’s celebrate this victory. But make no mistake: Forced arbitration is not going away on its own. We have to keep on fighting just as we did last week.

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