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General Mills apologizes and backtracks on consumer legal policy

By Kacey Culliney+

23-Apr-2014
Last updated on 23-Apr-2014 at 13:51 GMT

General Mills has apologized that it even considered changing its legal terms to include an arbitration clause
General Mills has apologized that it even considered changing its legal terms to include an arbitration clause

General Mills has reverted back to its old online legal terms following backlash and media outcry over its arbitration clause.

The cereal and food major updated its online privacy policy and legal terms earlier this month to include a binding arbitration clause. The clause stipulated that any consumer agreeing to the new terms when interacting online – downloading coupons, entering sweepstakes or subscribing to publications – revoked their right to sue General Mills in court and agreed to settle any claims outside the courts.

Arbitration clauses [agreements to settle disputes outside of courts] are not unheard of and many companies use them.

However, the backlash among consumers sparked by widespread national media coverage drove General Mills to backtrack on its decision just weeks later.

"Mmmm… a delicious way to give up your legal rights!" one Facebook user commented. One user commented directly on General Mills' blog: "While I understand why GM might want to do this, the way you went about it is absolutely terrible. The lack of transparency makes this look like a sly, underhanded, and very, very consumer-unfriendly move. Is it any wonder that American consumers no longer trust venerable brands that have previously stood the test of time? Shame on you for making a callous move like this one."

After an explanatory blog post failed to calm the storm, the company’s director of external communications Kirstie Foster posted another on April 19 to announce General Mills’ decision to revert back to its old legal terms.

“As has been widely reported, General Mills recently posted a revised set of legal terms on our websites. Those terms – and our intentions – were widely misread, causing concern among our consumers. So we’ve listened – and we’re changing them back to what they were before,” she wrote.

Arbitration would have streamlined complaints

Despite the backtrack, Foster explained that the arbitration clause would have “simply streamlined how complaints are handled”.

She said it was a cost-effective alternative to court disputes that did not preclude anyone from suing, just determined the forum.

“Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful. But consumers didn’t like it. So we’ve reverted back to our prior terms. There’s no mention of arbitration, and the arbitration provisions we had posted were never enforced. Nor will they be,” she continued.

General Mills concluded its online post with an apology that it “even started down this path”. The full post can be found HERE.

BakeryandSnacks.com asked General Mills if it was concerned that its move to revert back would harm consumer perception of the company, but it did not comment.

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