General Mills Says, Sorry, You Can "Like" Us Again

The cereal maker backpedals after changes to its legal policies draw widespread criticism.

Apr 22, 2014 at 6:15PM

Images

The backlash that followed General Mills' (NYSE:GIS) decision to make consumers give up their right to sue the company even in cases where harm might be caused by its own negligence was so swift, so severe, that the cereal maker had to quickly backpedal and revert to its previous policy. While it adopted a "But everyone's doing it" defense, General Mills realized it had committed a major public relations disaster that was best abandoned. 

Earlier this month, General Mills surreptitiously implemented a new legal policy in which it seemed that virtually any contact with the company -- buying its products, downloading a coupon, subscribing to a newsletter, or, most incredibly, simply "liking" or following it on social media -- required you to give up your rights to sue the company, even if you were hurt by one of its products. Instead, General Mills required you to submit to "final and binding arbitration" that only in rare instances could be reviewed by the courts.

The New York Times outed the company, and the outcry that ensued had General Mills tripping over itself to stamp out the wildfire of protest that erupted, first by carving out a social media exception (the Times misinterpreted the policy, don't you know?) and then saying, the heck with it, it's going back to the old policy completely.

Unfortunately, General Mills isn't being completely honest about its mistake. Instead of saying "We screwed up royally," it is blaming those who called the company out for its policy. Per a company blog posting:

Similar terms are common in all sorts of consumer contracts, and arbitration clauses don't cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim. They only specify a cost-effective means of resolving such matters. At no time was anyone ever precluded from suing us by purchasing one of our products at a store or liking one of our Facebook pages. That was either a mischaracterization -- or just very misunderstood."

What General Mills is saying is, it's not us, it's you. Yet If the binding arbitration clause wasn't trying to force consumers to waive "valid legal claims," then why bother inserting it? 

Below are screen captures of General Mills' previously revised policy in which it said that those who voluntarily participated in or engaged with the company, including people who "use or join our site or online community," became bound by those legal terms. So you tell me if it was a "mischaracterization" or that the policy was "misunderstood."

Screen Shot


and this:
 

Screen Shot

Source: General Mills.

General Mills says it never expected the public to turn on it like it has, and that it is "sorry we even started down this path," which undoubtedly is true. While this #sorrynotsorry attitude suggests chagrin only at getting caught for trying to undermine the rights of consumers, its blame-everyone-but-themselves excuse-making ought to give both consumers and investors pause before deciding whether they should "like" the Cheerios maker once again.

A standup company from The Motley Fool's top investment officer
There's a huge difference between a good stock and a stock that can make you rich. The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his No. 1 stock for 2014, and it's one of those stocks that could make you rich. You can find out which stock it is in the special free report "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2014." Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.

Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.


Compare Brokers