After reading this New York Times article “When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue,” I’m considering revoking all my ‘likes’ on Facebook. Apparently certain companies like General Mills are starting to rewrite their policy rules. Now simple actions can unknowingly void your ability to sue them. Apparently if you like their page, print their coupon, or in some cases even buy their product, you’ll now have to settle any problems with them via email arbitration, instead of taking them to court. Why did GM rewrite their rules and why is this a problem?
Paying out to end lawsuits
The article brings up several recent General Mills lawsuits. GM claims that lawsuits cost them millions. They say even if they don’t agree with a plaintiff’s claims, they usually just settle to end the lawsuit. It sounds pretty terrible that they need to pay out millions if they don’t even agree, right? GM makes it sound as if these lawsuits are somehow wrongful or frivolous.
The thing is, I can’t help but notice all these lawsuits seem to have a common theme.
They all have to do with General Mills mislabeling and MISREPRESENTING their products. For example, they liberally slap on huge labels like “100% Natural” on the front of their Nature’s Valley bars, when they actually contain some very unnatural ingredients. Some ingredients include GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, and who knows what else. Anyone who cares about their health would actively avoid these ingredients.
Option 1: Tell the truth and be transparent about ingredients
Since many of their lawsuits seem to center around this theme, what should they do? The obvious answer is to be transparent and honest. They should just say their products include GMOs and high fructose corn syrup. That way there’s no confusion, which means far fewer lawsuits for them.
Option 2: Use actual natural ingredients if that’s what they want the label to say
If they’re afraid people won’t buy their products if they tell the truth about their ingredients, then they know what they’re doing is dishonest and wrong. They know they’re feeding people crap, and they’re trying to hide it. If they’re afraid that honest labeling of crap ingredients will negatively impact sales, then they should use actual natural ingredients.
True, not using the cheapest, crappiest ingredients available will cut into their bottom line profit. But their current method of trying to save a few bucks on cheap ingredients isn’t exactly working out for them either. They’re racking up all these lawsuits due to misrepresenting their crappy ingredients, and consequently paying out millions.
Yes, this is a huge problem in America. But this isn’t the issue here. It’s not frivolous when corporations misrepresent ingredients that may affect your health. Especially when it’s hurting you and benefiting their bottom line. It’s a serious issue that needs to be brought to light. Corporations should absolutely be punished for misrepresenting products. We have the right to know so we can avoid eating crap, or at least actively choose whether we want to eat crap or not.
Also, what if their food supply gets contaminated and you get very sick, or even die? Their new arbitration policy prevents you or anyone else from taking them to court. There’s a good chance they’ll get off scot-free if this goes to arbitration instead of court. Arbitration doesn’t favor justice, since the corporation gets to decide whether it’s “fair” for themselves to pay damages.
General Mills and other corporations shouldn’t be allowed to overwrite state laws by forbidding customers to sue. Especially to get away with being dishonest, making huge profits, and not facing consequences.
To safeguard yourself in the meantime
Avoid buying products from corporations with these arbitration policies, because it usually means they have something to hide. Honestly, large corporations typically use the cheapest (which usually means the crappiest) ingredients available due to shareholder pressure for higher profit margins, so it’s safest to avoid corporate food altogether.
If you must buy it, don’t trust their claims on the front of their labels. Check the back for the actual ingredients list, although this usually doesn’t tell you everything. For example, high fructose corn syrup can now be labeled as corn syrup; so now you don’t even know if they’re using real sugar or not. Also, unless a company wants to voluntarily say “non-GMO” on their label, they’re not required to tell you whether it’s GMO or not.
You’re much better off buying food from companies who have a strong reputation for the quality of their natural or organic products. Not one from one who’s known for avoiding lawsuits due to false claims on their labels.
Photo via Flickr user decorat