General Mills has come to its senses, reversing its very recent and instantly unpopular attempt to punish customers who have liked it on Facebook or downloaded and used digital coupons. The original idea had been to force customers who have benefited from the cereal giant's online generosity to give up their legal right to sue GM for any reason, funneling those customers instead into arbitration. In a blog post explaining the news earlier today, General Mills claims it "never imagined this reaction." Perhaps they need a better PR team. [General Mills, Huffington Post]
The new language is clearly designed to help keep the company out of court. Last year alone, the company spent $8.5 million to settle a single lawsuit related to Yoplait packaging. Now, they just want to handle that kind of thing over email. According to The New York Times, "anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site." This is also known as "forced arbitration."
It's important to remember that this is just a change in General Mills policy, one that won't necessarily hold up in court. While a 2011 Supreme Court decision gives companies more latitude to prohibit class action arbitration, legal experts say that General Mills would have to prove that customers knew about this new policy in order to enforce it. That's a pretty difficult thing to do.
If you find this scenario unsettling, there's another way to avoid it. Just don't buy General Mills products. And definitely don't like them on Facebook or enter any contests. However, the more alarming thing about this news is the fact that policies such as this are becoming increasingly commonplace. "It's essentially trying to protect the company from all accountability, even when it lies, or say, an employee deliberately adds broken glass to a product," Julia Duncan, an arbitration expert at the American Association for Justice, told The Times.
Suddenly those Lucky Charms don't seem so lucky, huh? [New York Times]