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General Mills withdraws new policy limiting consumers' right to sue

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After facing several days of unrelenting criticism over a new legal policy which would take away consumers' rights to sue, General Mills announced late Saturday that it is withdrawing the new policy, the New York Times reports.

The Minnesota-based company, which makes hundreds of food products including Cheerios, Yoplait and Progresso, said on its website the new terms were "widely misread" and caused consumers to be concerned.

"So we’ve listened – and we’re changing them back to what they were before," the statement said.

The new policy came to light on Wednesday, when the New York Times first reported it. The new terms would have required consumers downloading coupons, “joining its online communities,” participating in sweepstakes and other promotions, and interacting with General Mills in a variety of other ways to agree to arbitration and forego the option of suing the company if there was a dispute.

The new policy was roundly criticized on social media, and on Friday the company clarified that it didn't apply to people who visit its Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas told the Times that the “online communities” mentioned in the policy referred only to those online communities hosted by General Mills on its own websites.

Despite the clarification, the company continued to feel pressure regarding its new terms, and issued another statement late Saturday saying that it decided to return to the previous legal terms which don't mention arbitration at all.

In the online posting, General Mills spokeswoman Kirstie Foster apologized to customers for the confusion.

"We’re sorry we even started down this path," she said. "We’ll just add that we never imagined this reaction. 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."

Foster is right in saying these arbitration requirements have become very common of late. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld them in 2011 in a case called AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, according to Slate. AT&T, Sprint, eBay, Amazon, and Dropbox are a few of the companies that have included arbitration clauses and class-action waivers into their terms of service, Slate reports.

Only a tiny percentage of consumers ever bother to read the terms of service on a website before agreeing to accept them, according to a New York University researcher quoted by Slate. So without even realizing it, consumers and employees attempting to sue after being harmed by a corporation may find that they signed away their legal rights to do so.

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