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Feb. 13, 2012

Consumers to Starbucks: Remove Forced Arbitration Language From Gift Cards

More Than 15,000 People Petition Coffee Giant to Stop Limiting Their Rights

SEATTLE – More than 15,000 people called on the Starbucks Coffee Corp. in a petition delivered Friday to remove from its prepaid cards’ terms of service a forced arbitration clause and class-action ban that unfairly restricts its customers’ legal rights. The petition, circulated by Public Citizen, follows a letter that the organization, along with three other public interest groups, sent to the coffee giant in December with the same request: stop limiting consumers’ access to the courts.

Clauses in consumer contracts requiring that disputes be settled by forced arbitration have mushroomed in the past decade. These clauses shield corporations from accountability for wrongdoing. In forced arbitration, there is no impartial judge or jury to settle disputes, but rather a secretive proceeding run by arbitrators who rely on their corporate customers for repeat business.

“Forced arbitration and class bans eviscerate consumers’ rights,” said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel with Public Citizen. “Starbucks’ decision to use them is inconsistent with the company’s claim to be a leader in corporate social responsibility. Now, the people have spoken and they want their rights back.”

“Starbucks’ lead paralegal, to whom we delivered the petition, warned us that this would be a difficult fight to win and that we’d have to really make our voices heard to get above the cacophony of noises and complaints they receive,” said Deborah Lapidus, a Public Citizen activist who delivered the petition. “However, he assured us that having 15,000 signatures meets the bar for the petitions to make it to the general counsel’s desk and he said that the CEO would end up hearing about it too. Overall, Starbucks’ staff was polite, listened and took our concerns seriously.”

To see photos of the petition delivery, visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/publiccitizen/sets/72157629303942459.

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