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Now you can download coupons for Cheerios to your heart’s content – and then sue the pants off the company if it suits you. General Mills has backtracked, and rescinded controversial new legal language that would have barred consumers from suing the company if they downloaded coupons, signed up for newsletters or otherwise engaged with the company on its various websites.

“We’ve listened – and we’re changing our legal terms back,” reads an announcement from General Mills issued late Saturday night.

The new legal terms “were widely misread, causing concern among consumers,” the statement from company spokesperson Kirstie Foster reads. “So we’ve listened – and we’re changing them back to what they were before.”

The terms were quietly changed earlier this month, but weren’t widely publicized until the New York Times reported on the change earlier this week. “By using our websites, joining our sites as a member, joining our online community, subscribing to our email newsletters, downloading or printing a digital coupon, entering a sweepstakes or contest, redeeming a promotional offer, or otherwise participating in any other General Mills offering,” the new legal terms read, “any dispute or claim made by you against General Mills… will be resolved by informal negotiations or through binding arbitration.”

In other words, just by engaging with General Mills online, you agreed to General Mills’ terms, which precluded you from suing them for any reason – even if, say, you were sickened or injured by one of their products. You’d be forced into binding arbitration, with no other recourse.

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“Arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled. Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful,” Foster wrote. But “we never imagined this reaction.”

That reaction was swift, and intensely negative. The story spread like wildfire, and angry consumers took to General Mills brands’ Facebook pages to vent. “What an underhanded, sneaky, weasel-lawyer move,” one former fan wrote on Cheerios’ Facebook page. “I just saved a bunch of money on my grocery bill by not buying any GM brand,” wrote another. “I sincerely hope your company goes under,” said a third.

The original Times report erroneously said you’d give up your right to sue just by “liking” General Mills or one of its products on Facebook, a misinterpretation of the policy that was widely repeated in other articles on the subject. General Mills smacked down those reports, saying “there’s a lot of misinformation out there” and clarifying that the policy didn’t apply to social media interactions (though the company failed to mention that much of the confusion resulted from the fact that it refused to talk to the paper for its initial report.)

General Mills’ followup statement struck a more conciliatory tone. “On behalf of our company and our brands, we would also like to apologize. We’re sorry we even started down this path. And we do hope you’ll accept our apology.”

It’s a remarkably swift turnaround, just two days after the first report on the subject appeared. So score one for the General Mills’ PR team, managing to talk some sense into the legal team. Then again, while the initial report came out early on a Thursday and had two full weekdays to spread, the backtracking came late on a Saturday, and on Easter weekend no less. So there’s a good chance that many who heard about the original report and vowed to boycott General Mills, may never hear about the followup and the apology.

Still, General Mills is expressing its hope “that you’ll continue to download product coupons, talk to us on social media, or look for recipes on our websites” – if you’re forgiving enough to backtrack on that General Mills boycott that many had threatened. And if all of this happy interaction still makes you want to sue – well then, this time, General Mills will happily see you in court.

Image source: Mike Mozart

One Comment

  1. I found her apology weak. And also, how they thought it would be helpful, to be a lie. I’m not ready to start buying General Mills again.

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