Cheerios maker apologizes, waves white flag on fine print controversy

by Bob Sullivan on April 20, 2014

http://www.blog.generalmills.com

http://www.blog.generalmills.com

General Mills on Saturday reversed changes it recently made to terms and conditions that would have limited consumers’ ability to file lawsuits against the firm.  The move comes after a week of pounding in the public marketplace, which served a slice of humble pie to the firm and served as a lesson to American consumers about the ongoing creep of binding mandatory arbitration clauses.

“On behalf of our company and our brands, we would also like to apologize,” said Kirstie Foster, director of External Communications for General Mills, in a post on the firm’s blog. “We’re sorry we even started down this path. And we do hope you’ll accept our apology. We also hope that you’ll continue to download product coupons, talk to us on social media, or look for recipes on our websites.”

The controversy began after a legal advocacy group named the American Association for Justice started poking journalists to write about a change in General Mills’ policy which ensnared users who downloaded coupons or signed up for emails from the firm. The change limited consumers’ ability to join class action lawsuits, and would have forced consumers to use arbitration to settle most disputes.  Such terms are increasingly common in standard form contracts that consumers sign with banks, cell phone providers, and a host of other companies. Critics say arbitration clauses are one-sided and favor only corporations.

General Mills stuck its foot in its mouth a second time last week while attempting to defend its change, saying consumers could opt out of the change — but this column exposed the fine print on the firm’s website which made that a half-hearted offer, showing consumers would be “re-opted-in” by receiving an email or downloading a coupon.

There is nothing half-hearted about Saturday’s retreat:

“We’ve reverted back to our prior terms. There’s no mention of arbitration, and the arbitration provisions we had posted were never enforced. Nor will they be. We stipulate for all purposes that our recent Legal Terms have been terminated, that the arbitration provisions are void, and that they are not, and never have been, of any legal effect. That last bit is from our lawyers,” GM says on its blog post announcing the change.

The firm did defend its original change again, however.

“We’ll just add that we never imagined this reaction. Similar terms are common in all sorts of consumer contracts, and arbitration clauses don’t cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim. They only specify a cost-effective means of resolving such matter,” it said.

To learn more about binding arbitration clauses, visit FairContracts.org

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