General Mills, among the mightiest food companies in the United States, quickly scrunched on Saturday a short-lived and much-derided new legal policy that had it taking away its consumers rights to sue if they had liked them on Facebook or downloaded coupons from the company’s website.
Last week, the New York Times reported that General Mills had its lawyers add legalese to its website’s Legal Terms section that basically said that anyone who’d received any sort of benefit from the company would have to use informal negotiations via email if and when any legal dispute arose. Even going on the record via social media as being Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs would have pushed you into this category.
An expert called this “forced arbitration” an effort to “protect the company from all accountability.”
So, on Saturday, the company announced that “We’ve listened — and we’re changing our legal terms back.” General Mills spokeswoman Kirstie Foster issued the following statement:
We rarely have disputes with consumers — and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled. Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful.
But consumers didn’t like it.
So 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.
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 matters. At no time was anyone ever precluded from suing us by purchasing one of our products at a store or liking one of our Facebook pages. That was either a mischaracterization — or just very misunderstood.
Not that any of that matters now.
On behalf of our company and our brands, we would also like to apologize. 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.
General Mills, which makes everything from Bisquick to Cheerios, was attempting to slip through a clause which has become common in the marketplace. In the United States, the clause already has been upheld in courts; however, elsewhere, such as in Canada, legislation has voided this type of end-around, according to The Globe and Mail.