In a surprising reversal this weekend, General Mills decided to scrap the new policies that spurred a huge flap, particularly on Facebook. In response to the outrage displayed by consumers, current, potential and otherwise, General Mills has announced that it will not be adopting the policies that essentially made it impossible for the public to sue them.
Last week on their website, the food giant updated their policies regarding company engagement by the consumers and how disputes would be settled. Essentially, anyone who so much as downloaded a coupon or entered a sweepstakes would only have the options of either informal agreements through e-mail or forced arbitration through closed door sessions with a company lawyer, should a disagreement come about. Neither option is preferable for the consumer.
What really got people angry was the fact that a simple pressing of the thumbs up “like” button on one of the General Mills Facebook pages would subject an individual to the same policy. Perhaps General Mills did not realize how easy it is to “unlike” something. That is what many people did. As was stated in a previous article, maybe they did not care whether people “like” them on Facebook or not. Now it appears that they do.
Though the company is still in support of the now reversed policy, they have chosen to remove the language in order to apologize and make good. However it will be important to look for kinks in the coming weeks. Loopholes in which the company may be able to secrete away a newer, but silent form of the greatly disliked policy. Already people are accusing them of only removing the part about the Facebook “likes” but keeping all other company-to-consumer interactions as susceptible to the new policy. At face value, this seems to not be true. Even though it appears that General Mills has responded in a seemingly positive way, the outrage continues.
A visit to the General Mills blog is met with a letter of explanation and apology from Kirstie Foster, who is the director of External Communications. The company seems to be truly sorry for the way they have angered the public. One look at the comments to the blog shows that, for the most part, the public is not buying it. Particularly the part of the blog which claims that forced arbitration does not preclude the consumer from taking a company to court. In all honesty, that is disingenuous. The whole point of forced arbitration, and other similar legal tactics, is to keep consumers from successfully litigating in a court of law, either as a single individual or banded together in a class action lawsuit.
General Mills may not be able to fully recover from this latest ordeal. They have infringed upon the trust of a huge consumer market. Though they make the argument that other corporations employ similar policies, they must understand that people take their food quite seriously. According to a Gallup Report from 2012, Americans spend $151 each week on groceries. They need to know that they can trust their food providers and producers. There are plenty of options besides General Mill products available. Public outrage requires a response and General Mills needs to find a way to repair the damage quickly and now.
By Stacy Lamy