Suffice to say, General Mills’ new legal terms, which were quietly posted to its website last week, didn’t go over very well with the public. Under the new rules, people who had received anything potentially considered to be a benefit — from liking the company’s Facebook page to downloading coupons to entering a sweepstakes — would be prevented from joining class-action lawsuits and would be limited only to arbitration or informal negotiations.
The outrage was widespread, and on Saturday the company that brings us everything from Cheerios and Pillsbury to Yoplait and Progresso, changed back to its previous terms.
"We felt it would be helpful. But consumers didn’t like it," wrote spokeswoman Kirstie Foster in the company’s mea culpa.
Indeed, in the relationship between consumers and corporations, the right to sue is no small thing. Within all of that fine print that is so easily overlooked, many major corporations have legal terms to which customers consent when they make a purchase or provide personal information. Some include an agreement that disputes be settled by an arbitrator, rather than a judge or jury, according to CNN Money.
Consumer advocates say that arbitration generally favors the company and eliminates customer protection.
As MSNBC's Adam Serwer explains: “Empowered by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, corporations have quietly placed more expansive forced arbitration clauses into contracts meant for potential employees or customers. Without even realizing it, consumers and employees attempting to sue after being harmed by a corporation may find that they’ve already signed away their legal rights to do so.”
While General Mills reversed the policy, it nonetheless stood by the initial decision, noting that arbitration is cost-effective and a common business practice. Company officials blamed the public reaction on a "mischaracterization" of the terms.
"No one is precluded from suing us by purchasing our products at a store, and no one is precluded from suing us when they 'like' one of our Facebook pages," said Foster.
"We'll just add that we never imagined this reaction," she continued. "We're sorry we even started down this path."
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