General Mills has reversed a new policy that sparked outrage among consumers.
General Mills last week revealed a new rule that prevented people from joining class action lawsuits if they "joined [its] online communities." Such actions might include entering a General Mills-sponsored contest, subscribing to newsletters or liking the company on Facebook. Under the new terms, those who violated the rule would be limited to arbitration or informal negotiations as a means of conflict resolution.
"We rarely have disputes with consumers –- and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled," the company's blogpost said. "Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful. But consumers didn’t like it."
The New York Times first reported Wednesday that the Minneapolis, Minn.-based company -- which owns dozens of brands from Cheerios and Lucky Charms to Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, Yoplait and Progresso soup -- had quietly changed the fine print on its website to restrict any potential lawsuits.
After the change in fine print was revealed, consumers and others voiced their alarm:
A dangerous precedent: If you use its coupons, you can't sue General Mills http://t.co/mcqzk8s0rv
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) April 17, 2014
Apparently now if you even look in the direction of a General Mills product, you lose all legal rights: http://t.co/e3uFsycEWr
— John Scalzi (@scalzi) April 17, 2014
In its blogpost, General Mills said the new legal terms had been either "mischaracterized" or "very misunderstood."
"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," it said.
MSNBC's Adam Serwer explains the significance of companies' limiting consumers' rights to sue:
Empowered by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, corporations have quietly placed more expansive forced arbitration clauses into contracts meant for potential employees or customers. Without even realizing it, consumers and employees attempting to sue after being harmed by a corporation may find that they’ve already signed away their legal rights to do so.