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Earlier this week several consumer advocate groups banded together to ask Starbucks to respect the rights of consumers. The massive coffee retailer recently added forced arbitration clauses and class-action bans to the terms of service on their pre-paid gift cards. These type of policies limit consumers’ access to our court system, and such policies fly in the face of Starbucks’ long history of portraying their company as a firm believer in social responsibility.
Use of forced arbitration clauses has skyrocketed in the past decade, and serve to protect corporations from accountability for their wrongdoing. In this case, if you are using a Starbucks gift card and find out you were charged hidden fees or being charged for items you did not receive, you will be forced to fly to Seattle and seek a refund from an arbitrator hand-picked by Starbucks’ corporate office. Obviously not many consumers would want to incur the travel and hotel expenses of such a trip just to be refunded a few dollars. If Starbucks uses this protection and charges ten million consumers a $2 hidden fee for using the card, that would create $20 million dollars of fraudulent earnings for the company. The consumers affected would be barred from joining a class action to seek redress of these losses. Starbucks would only have to answer to those consumers who traveled to Seattle to face the arbitrator that Starbucks selected. This type of corporate behavior is anti-consumer, and the hypothetical situation above is no fantasy. Just last month, the state of Massachusetts fined Starbucks for charging customers an added fee on every bag of coffee purchased, without disclosing the fee. If you want to read more, and sign a petition asking Starbucks to stop hiding forced arbitration clauses on their pre-paid cards, you can read the Public Citizen letter to Starbucks and sign the petition here.