On Black Friday, the 2011 holiday and shopping season began at a hurried pace. If you’re anything like me, you may prefer to speed it up even further by picking up one, two or a few gift cards for family and friends. Possibly one of the favorite gift card destinations is coffee giant Starbucks. What coffee lover can resist the ability to purchase many cups of coffee on one prepaid card? Unfortunately, as we recently discovered, Starbucks cards come with strings attached.
The terms and conditions of Starbucks’ prepaid card unnecessarily restrict the legal rights of its card users. Specifically, the contract contains language that forces card users into individual arbitration in the event a dispute arises. It also forbids customers from joining together in a class action to pursue claims against the company.
Not Starbucks, or any other company, should eliminate our fundamental (yes, constitutional) rights in the fine print of its contracts. Our legal rights should not become a bargaining chip.
Frankly, these arbitration clauses and class-action bans are appearing like wild unyielding weeds in numerous consumer and employment contracts. But, the Starbucks’ fine print surprised and disappointed us. The coffee giant has cultivated a reputation as a socially responsible entity, not just another multinational corporation willing to trample on our rights.
Four consumer advocacy groups – Public Citizen, Alliance for Justice, National Association of Consumer Advocates and National Consumers League – sent a letter to Starbucks today requesting that it remove the harmful provisions.
Christine Hines is Consumer and Civil Justice Counsel at Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.