General Mills, which took heavy flak last week for overreaching online terms of service, reverted to previous legal language over the weekend, apologized and assured customers who engage with its brands or products on social media aren’t giving up any legal remedies.
As the New York Times reported and our Greg Sterling followed, General Mills updated the legal terms on its website last week to alert customers that, as the Times wrote, “they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, ‘join’ it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.” Instead, consumers with legal grievances would be required to negotiate informally by email or enter arbitration.
On Saturday, General Mills, maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex and owner of brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, backed down, while also arguing that it never intended to limit consumer rights to sue.
Kirstie Foster, director of external communications, wrote in a blog post that the company has reverted to its previous online terms, and stripped all mention of arbitration.
“We rarely have disputes with consumers – and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled,” Foster wrote. “Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful. But consumers didn’t like it.”
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.
Not that any of that matters now.
On behalf of our company and our brands, we would also like to apologize. We’re sorry we even started down this path. And we do hope you’ll accept our apology. We also hope that you’ll continue to download product coupons, talk to us on social media, or look for recipes on our websites.