General Mills has reneged on a policy it just announced last week: consumers who like any of its brands’ social media fan pages, download company coupons, or participate in company contests, are giving their consent to have any disputes settled through arbitration instead of lawsuits.
The company made the announcement that it was reversing that policy last Saturday after the New York Times first reported on the company’s plans last Wednesday.
On its website, General Mills had initially said it would “require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.” But, according to the Times, “In an email sent after 10 p.m. on Saturday, the company said that due to concerns that its plans to require consumers to agree to informal negotiation or arbitration had raised among the public, it was taking down the new terms it had posted on its website.”
“Because our terms and intentions were widely misunderstood, causing concerns among our consumers, we’ve decided to change them back to what they were,” Mike Siemienas, a company spokesman, wrote in the email. “As a result, the recently updated legal terms are being removed from our websites, and we are announcing today that we have reverted back to our prior legal terms, which contain no mention of arbitration.”
The new terms would have forced consumers into arbitration in lieu of lawsuits, a move that other companies have adopted, but General Mills would have been among the first food companies to use this model. “[L]egal experts questioned whether the broad language the company used could be enforced,” explained the Times. It was a decision inherently problematic. While arbitration may work for, say, a dispute with a cell phone provider, food is an entirely different issue. Contamination can lead to injury and death. Non-disclosure of genetically modified ingredients can lead to health and environmental concerns. Consumers have launched (and won) many lawsuits against General Mills and other major food brands over these issues in recent years.
General Mills had recently won praise from consumers and advocacy groups for announcing that its popular Cheerios cereal would come in a GMO-free variety.
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