On Thursday, General Mills updated their terms of service to include a little bit of text that says when you engage with the company through social media, newsletters or digital coupons, you give up your right to sue the company. Well, that seems like an incredible leap.
To be clear, you don’t have your right to sue completely taken away, but the text states that issues must be settled by arbitration rather than going through court or jury trials or class actions.
The activities covered by their new terms of service are incredibly thorough. They include when people join the site as a member, interact with the company via any social media site, subscribe for emails, download digital coupons, enter a contest/sweepstakes or participate in an General Mills “offering” in any way. In what seems like a strange exception, child-orientated websites and promotions are not included.
So how does a company just ban nearly all lawsuits against itself? Well it’s not even a foreign concept. In 2011, Sony went ahead and banned all class-action lawsuits. According to The New York Times, looks like General Mills went ahead and followed suit when a judge wouldn’t throw out a class-action lawsuit against the company in California. An arbitration expert told The New York Times that though this might be the first case of a food company pursuing “forced arbitration,” it won’t be the last. She notes that these kinds of agreements “protect the company from all accountability.”
However, Daniel Fisher for Forbes writes that General Mills might actually be acting in favor of the consumer. He writes that what General Mills is really targeting is the class-action lawsuit. As he puts it, class-action lawsuits rarely benefit consumers once lawyers’ fees and expenses have been taken out. The kind of settlement that General Mills would like their potential plaintiffs to use—arbitration—has a lower legal fee.
The new terms note that anyone can opt out of the agreement but it must be in writing, within 30 days of agreeing. Furthermore, it is expected that the user will then stop all interaction with the company and their offerings.