The Cereal Coupon That Saves You 50 Cents and Costs You Your Rights

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Earlier this year, General Mills added language to its website that stated consumers agreed to give up the right to sue by accepting certain small benefits from the company. According to the quietly introduced terms, consumers forfeited their rights in exchange for even the most minor and ambiguous benefits, including the following:

  • Downloading a coupon to save a few cents on a product purchase
  • Liking the company or a General Mills’ product on Facebook
  • Joining a social media campaign
  • Entering a General Mills-sponsored sweepstakes, drawing or contest
  • Signing up for email alerts
  • Buying a General Mills product

The terms stated that by taking any of these actions, the consumer agreed to binding arbitration as a method of dispute resolution. The company, thus, could avoid expensive, public litigation. In addition, consumers were unable to file a class action lawsuit, which traditionally gives plaintiffs more equal power in the courts.

The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen explains that many companies employ the forced arbitration provisions in contracts with their customers. Chances are that if you have a telephone, cable, Internet, credit cards, a checking account, electronics and other products and services, you are subject to forced arbitration to resolve certain disputes. These contracts are inherently skewed because you have no means of negotiating with the lawyers of multinational, multi-billion dollar companies. By entering into a commercial relationship with the company, you have to agree to whatever terms it unilaterally decides.

However unfair the arbitration clauses might be in a mobile phone or a credit card contract, the stakes are much higher when it comes to food. In an interview for a New York Times article, the Public Citizen attorney pointed out, “When you’re talking about food, you’re also talking about things that can kill people.” You might lose money if your bank makes a mistake. But you could lose your life if a food manufacturer makes an error. For example, an improperly labeled package that contains peanuts, milk, soy or gluten could cause a severe allergic reaction in certain consumers. Or, contaminated food could carry salmonella, campylobacter, listeria or another foodborne pathogen.

In response to the tremendous backlash, General Mills quickly removed the arbitration language from its website and issued an apology. This is good news for General Mills’ customers. However, consumers should be aware of this type of small print tucked into the terms of use website pages of other food manufacturers and restaurants.

 

Topics:  General Mills, Waivers, Websites

Published In: Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Updates, Consumer Protection Updates, Personal Injury Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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