Why is General Mills Trying to Hide Behind Forced Arbitration?

General Mills, owner of grocery staples including Cheerios, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, has quietly updated its electronic terms of service to include a forced arbitration clause that will eliminate many of its customers’ rights to hold the corporation accountable in court. The April 2 change means that people who purchase General Mills products with coupons, turn in box tops or even just visit their website won’t be able to bring the corporation to court.

According in an article published today in the New York Times, the change in legal terms, which occurred shortly after a judge refused to dismiss a case brought against the company by consumers in California, made General Mills one of the first, if not the first, major food companies to seek to impose what legal experts call “forced arbitration” on consumers.

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, a trade group representing plaintiff trial lawyers. “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.

The article went on to say that a growing number of companies have adopted similar policies over the years, especially after a 2011 Supreme Court decision, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, that paved the way for businesses to bar consumers claiming fraud from joining together in a single arbitration. The decision allowed companies to forbid class-action lawsuits with the use of a standard-form contract requiring that disputes be resolved through the informal mechanism of one-on-one arbitration.

Abusive forced arbitration clauses allow corporations like General Mills to single-handedly kick customers harmed by their products out of court and funnels them into a dispute mill that is rigged, secretive and decided by an arbitrator who does not even have to follow the law. Without the threat of answering for their actions in court, corporations are able to grant themselves a license to break the law and harm customers in their endless pursuit of profits. 

The addition of a forced arbitration clause is a slap in the face to consumers: Parents can’t hold anyone accountable if their child has an allergic reaction to a mislabeled product; individuals will be denied access to justice if they consume broken glass buried in their salsa; and if you find pieces of plastic in your Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and get any reimbursement from the corporation, you are prohibited from ever telling anyone about this dangerous discovery.

If General Mills is not accountable, their customers are not safe.

Here's how you can help. Take action now! Write to Congress to urge them to protect their constituents from the abusive practice of forced arbitration!