Thursday, April 17, 2014

General Mills: Brilliant Legal Maneuver, or the Worst Public Relations Move Ever

In recent years, there has been a flurry of legislative efforts to protect the image of farm and food products. For example, "ag gag" statutes provide a form of heightened legal protection from potential lawsuits. 

General Mills has taken a different route. It has developed an innovative self-help strategy to lure its customers into signing away any right to sue them.  And, it is causing a stir across the internet.

As explained in the New York Times, April 16, 2014 -  When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue by Stephanie Strom -  
Might downloading a 50-cent coupon for Cheerios cost you legal rights? 
General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that 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, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.
In language added on Tuesday after The New York Times contacted it about the changes, General Mills seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms. 
“We’ve updated our privacy policy,” the company wrote in a thin, gray bar across the top of its home page. “Please note we also have new legal terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.” 


The General Mills website, with the described language at the top,  is pictured above, and a hotlink is provided for a larger image of the language on the actual website.

University of Arkansas School of Law Professor Christopher Kelley had this response:

Dear General Mills,

I, as a person born in 1947, write to terminate any and all agreements, express or implied, between us save for our agreement set forth in the following paragraph:
We agree that if you use of any information about my consumer purchase preferences, however expressed, including aggregated information about the consumer purchase preferences of persons born in 1947 in which information about my consumer purchase preferences might be included, you will waive any and all claims and defenses, legal and equitable, in any dispute between us until this agreement is terminated by either you or me. You may terminate this agreement at any time by notifying me that you have permanently ceased to use any information about my consumer purchase preferences, however expressed, including aggregated information about the consumer purchase preferences of persons born in 1947 in which information about my consumer purchase preferences might be included. 
To allay any concerns that you might have about this agreement being inimical to your financial interests, I will use my best efforts to avoid any dispute between us by not knowingly purchasing your products.

My regards,

Christopher

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