Sen. Menendez Urges FTC to Intervene on Behalf of General Mills Customers

Sen. Menendez Urges FTC to Intervene on Behalf of General Mills Customers

NEWARK, NJ - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez calling on the FTC to intervene on behalf of General Mills customers and review the company's attempt to limit a consumer's ability to sue them based solely on a consumer's interactions with the company's website.

"General Mills' attempt to force consumers to give up their rights to sue in court is an unnecessary and dangerous expansion of abusive trade practices," wrote Sen. Menendez. "Consumers expect companies to be held accountable for their conduct, whether for making false statements or for putting consumers in danger. By imposing such broad legal restrictions on consumers, General Mills could potentially shield itself from responsibility for future instances of misleading advertising or failing to protect consumers from obvious harm."

General Mills recently added warning on its website alerting customers that its legal terms had been updated, barring consumers who make "use of any of our sites or services" or participate in any other General Mills offering from suing in a court or joining a class action suit; instead they must submit to either informal negotiation or individually binding arbitration. This broad, sweeping language includes any person who visits General Mills' website, subscribes to their newsletter, or even joins their "online community."

"Consumers should not have their rights so casually dismissed," insisted Sen. Menendez.

The Senator has called on the FTC to investigate whether General Mills' action constitutes an unfair trade practice. In addition, he has asked Chairwoman Ramirez if changes to current law are necessary to prohibit companies from forcing arbitration on consumers as a method of resolving disputes.

Sen. Menendez has cosponsored the Arbitration Fairness Act, which ensures transparency in civil litigation and restores the rights of workers and consumers seeking justice in our courts.

The following is the full text of the Senator's letter:

April 17, 2014

Edith Ramirez
Chairwoman
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580

Dear Chairwoman Ramirez:

I write regarding General Mills' attempt to limit a consumer's ability to sue them based solely on a consumer's interactions with the company's website. General Mills' attempt to force consumers to give up their rights to sue in court is an unnecessary and dangerous expansion of abusive trade practices. I write to ask whether this forced arbitration clause violates the Federal Trade Commission's mandate against unfair trade practices and to seek your views about legislative proposals that the FTC would recommend to address this issue.

General Mills recently added a small, grey banner to their website warning that its legal terms had been updated. These updated legal terms bar consumers who make "use of any of our sites or services" or participate in any other General Mills offering from suing in a court or joining a class action suit; instead they must submit to either informal negotiation or individually binding arbitration. This broad, sweeping language includes any person who visits General Mills' website, subscribes to their newsletter, or even joins their "online community."

Consumers expect companies to be held accountable for their conduct, whether for making false statements or for putting consumers in danger. By imposing such broad legal restrictions on consumers, General Mills could potentially shield itself from responsibility for future instances of misleading advertising or failing to protect consumers from obvious harm. Consumers should not have their rights so casually dismissed. I write to inquire about the FTC's views on this practice and ask that you further investigate whether it constitutes an unfair trade practice or whether changes to current law are necessary to prohibit companies from forcing arbitration on consumers as a method of resolving disputes.

If you have any questions, please contact my Chief Counsel, Kerri Talbot, at (202) 224-4744. Thank you for your continued work in this issue. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

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