We welcome today’s announcement that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will study the impact of forced arbitration in consumer financial services contracts, as required by the Dodd-Frank Act. The agency’s decision to begin working on the issue is good news for anyone who has a credit card, short-term loan, bank account or other financial service contract.
The principal goal of forced arbitration is to prevent consumers from joining together in class actions, because in many instances it is not feasible for consumers to pursue claims on an individual basis. Class-action bans allow companies to rip off consumers with virtual impunity, so long as they take relatively small amounts of money from each person. Individual arbitrations tend to be biased against consumers and favor the companies that provide arbitrators with repeat business.
Forced arbitration clauses usually are slipped into the small type of the lengthy documents you get when you apply for a credit card or loan, buy a cell phone or download computer software. We have long said that forced arbitration unreasonably denies consumers the ability to pursue claims against corporate misconduct. Our previous reports have shown that consumers overwhelmingly are on the losing end of contracts and terms of service that contain arbitration clauses.
We expect that any fair examination of forced arbitration will conclude that the practice is devastatingly harmful to consumers. The most critical step, then, will be for the CFPB to ban forced arbitration, ensuring that arbitration is always voluntary for consumers – not a kangaroo court or a tool for law-breaking corporations to insulate themselves from accountability.
Stay tuned for a report Public Citizen will be putting out tied to the anniversary of the AT&T v. Concepcions U.S. Supreme Court case that Public Citizen argued last year and check out our forced arbitration gallery.
Christine Hines is Public Citizen’s consumer and civil justice counsel.