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General Mills: About-Face

posted by Dalié Jiménez

General Mills decided to reverse direction on its recent change to its terms of service purporting to mandate arbitration and ban class actions for anyone who 'liked' them (among other things). Perhaps they were threatened by Adam Levitin's counter-proposal, or maybe it was the widespread outraged reaction on Twitter and all manner of social media. 

Hurray for consumer advocates! They not only got a complete pivot, but they also got an apology (of sorts: "We're sorry we even started down this path"). The way the company characterizes what happens though, is telling:

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.  

As others have pointed out, whether or not the language of the previous agreement would've been enforceable, it did purport to do what the media reported. But the more interesting recharacterization in their post is this notion that "arbitration clauses don't cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim" which they also mentioned in their previous blog post explaining the changes.

The General is being quite disengenous by claiming that waiving the right to file a class action does not mean consumers would've given up valid legal claims. The curious part is that there's no mention of the class action waiver in either of its blog posts about the terms or even in the New York Times article breaking the story (HT to Daniel Fisher over at Forbes for pointing this out).

But that's where the meat of the story is. And it's the most important victory for consumers to come out of all of this outrage. Now if we could get some more outrage for financial products class action waivers ... 


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