Often when a business entity makes a bold move, there is an undercurrent, a sub-story. This sub-story is the backbone that supports the action; the real story. In the case of General Mills this week, an argument can be made for this idea. While General Mills, a company that in August of 2013 was #112 on the S&P 500, is quietly limiting their consumers to forced arbitration instead of a lawsuit when a dispute occurs, they are vociferously giving their support to GMOs.
Recently, General Mills made some major changes to the way their legal department operates. On their website’s homepage, General Mills has posted new terms regarding the consumers’ right to take legal action over disputes. When someone downloads a coupon, enters a sweepstakes or in any way interacts with or benefits from the company (which in the internet world has become quite commonplace) they are essentially signing away their right to sue General Mills in the future should any sort of disagreement come about. Even “liking” their page on Facebook puts the consumer in this position.
In lieu of a lawsuit, the people will have a choice: email interface with General Mills to work out an agreement or a little something called forced arbitration. In this case, the consumer meets with a representative (usually a lawyer) of the company. Together, they make an arrangement that is supposed to protect the company while assuaging the consumer. More often than not, the business entity is let off easy and the quiet, closed-door session goes virtually unnoticed.
This informal practice also serves another purpose. It creates a “divide and conquer” scenario. No longer are the consumers able to band together in a class-action lawsuit when they have matching complaints or disputes. Which leads to the story’s undercurrent; the link between General Mills, forced arbitration and GMOs.
General Mills has put their substantial buying power and business standing behind Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Though they have made some changes in their production practices, the company seems to firmly believe that GMOs are the great hope and promise for the world’s food future. General Mills goes so far as to state that no where in the world has any food safety expert found that GMOs cause any harm. This simply is not true.
For instance, at the Institute for Responsible Technology’s website, there is a list of 65 GMO health risks. There is evidence available that rats, mice, sheep and humans all have potentially been negatively effected by genetically modified products. The list of nations, states and counties that have banned GMOs, in one form or another, at Natural Revolution’s website tells an important tale; a more likely outcome for the future than the one General Mills depicts.
Well-knowing the tenuous hold that General Mills and other “old-school” food corporations have on the future of food, they must take more insidious actions. In an effort to avoid future lawsuits from groups of concerned citizens regarding the company’s use of GMOs, the nearly 150 year old company has devised a legal way around the possibility. Or has it?
One of the problems with this policy change is that they are a food company, a person could die from some horrible mistake made at one of General Mill’s plants. Is it plausible that they will be allowed to uphold this practice? Is there too much at stake for the consumer? Already people on Facebook are disturbed by this decision. Will Facebook users begin to avoid the thumbs up button in order to maintain their rights? Does General Mills care?
If the contention stated at the beginning of this article is correct, General Mills does not care about how many “likes” they get on Facebook. Their main concern stems from having and maintaining control over future outcomes regarding their use of GMOs. General Mills will continue to use and defend GMOs with forced arbitration as their safety net.
By Stacy Lamy