Liking a brand online may seem like a harmless act, but the recent actions of General Mills show us that we should be careful of assumptions about our consumer rights.
Last week, according to the The New York Times, General Mills added language to their website that made it so that consumers who download coupons or joined individual online brand communities on Facebook gave up their right to sue the company. That includesd entering sweepstakes or anyone that has received anything from the company that can be perceived as a “benefit.” A coupon for cheap breakfast cereal? Your right to bring a lawsuit would have gotten tossed out the window.
However, a few days after the story, General Mills announced that it was reverting to its old set of rules.
Obviously online platforms have become a way for consumers to express both their love of brands, as well as their disdain, and in a world where lawsuits come with a heavy price tag — General Mills paid $8.5 million last year because of lawsuits relating to health claims on Yoplait Yogurt — companies like General Mills are trying to do everything they can to get away from accountability.
“Although this is the first case I’ve seen of a food company moving in this direction, others will follow — why wouldn’t you?” said Julia Duncan, director of federal programs and an arbitration expert at the American Association for Justice told the The New York Times. “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.”
And while the company reverted to the old language, which means you can still snag a Cheerios coupon without fear of not being able to sue General Mills if the Cheerios does something bad to you, it does raise some interesting points for consumers.
Actions of this kind aren’t entirely unthinkable in the future. In fact, many mobile phone carriers and banks are known for having forced arbitration clauses, essentially stopping consumers from bringing lawsuits against them. As more and more consumers are bringing legal cases against big food companies, even getting big time lawyers involved, it wouldn’t be so surprising to see large corporations doing everything they can to protect themselves, even coming up with legal language that may take away our consumer rights.
The take away? For now you can go ahead and like Chex and Yoplait on Facebook and not be concerned about jeopardizing your personal consumer rights, but in the future, be wary of the fine print.
Photo Credit: Y'amal
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