General Mills did the predictable thing today and, after refusing to answer questions from The New York Times, wrote a blog post criticizing the paper for getting the Cheerios story wrong yesterday. Feel free to believe the firm — and every other corporation — which tries to say that forcing consumers into binding arbitration and forbidding class action lawsuits is actually consumer friendly. You’d be better off spending five minutes reading about binding arbitration and making up your own mind.
But in the company’s dismissive post about misinformation, it includes a heck of a Whopper. If all this silly talk troubles you, writes PR rep Kristie Foster, you can simply wish it away!
“We also provide the opportunity to opt out. Just notify us by email of your wishes,” she writes.
Ah, if it were only as easy as wishing. Here’s what you have to do to opt out (as if anyone would do this).
“You may terminate this Agreement by providing us with written notice of your desire to do so by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first and last name and the year in which you were born in the email.”
Meanwhile, even such emailed wishes, like boxed of Cheerios, have an expiration date. The opt out is only as good as your last coupon, or email. General Mills fine print is a bit like a monster in a horror flick that can keep coming back to life again and again. Most digital interactions with the company will put the “contract” terms back in force.
“Any such termination will not be valid if you remain (at that time) a user or member or any of our sites or communities, a subscriber to any of our emails, or a participant in any sweepstakes, contest, or other General Mills offering where these terms have been presented.”
So you might wish to opt out of the arbitration clause, but if you wish to download copies of coupons for Cheerios…or any one of thousands of products you may not realize are General Mills…you are back in the group that’s forced into arbitration again.
As Sarah Jones of the American Association for Justice tells me, “As we read it, you can opt-out via email but the second you take an action that triggers the arbitration clause you are opted right back in.”
The first comment on Foster’s column says this: “How does this language not mean precluded from suing? ‘ 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,” and there’s only one response at the moment: “I guess they think we’re all stupid.” I’ll leave that up to you. But really, read up on forced arbitration.
You can start with my story yesterday, and visit the website FairContracts.org for plenty of details Here’s a pretty even-handed post from the National Association of Attorneys General about it. Yes, class action lawyers can and do abuse the system, sometimes rewarding themselves with million-dollar fees while impacted consumers only get a coupon or a check worth pennies. But forcing all consumers to surrender their rights to sue because of these coupon settlements is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and it’s also a misdirection tactic by corporations simply trying to take your rights. Don’t fall for it.