Hopeful in St. Louis

All around the country, newspapers’ consumer journalists are taking notice and reporting on the injustice of forced arbitration. Most recently, Matthew Hathaway, columnist for the St. Louis-Post Dispatch, posted a short article on the “The Savvy Consumer” blog. While Hathaway reports on the biases and unfairness of the predatory corporate practice, he’s a tad overly optimistic that it may soon come to an end.

As Hathaway noted, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by the recently passed financial reform law will be authorized to ban or restrict forced arbitration. So will the Securities and Exchange Commission. But here’s what Hathaway leaves out: millions of other consumer contracts exist that fall outside of these agencies’ jurisdictions. The CFPB and SEC can restrict investor-broker contracts and contracts for other financial products as designated under the new law. But they have no authority to restrict or ban forced arbitration in numerous consumer contracts, such as those for employment, nursing homes, cell phones, and home building.

Hathaway guesses that the days of forced arbitration “could be numbered.” His optimism is refreshing. But even with SEC and CFPB’s new authority, we still need Congress to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act to eliminate pre-dispute forced arbitration from all consumer contracts for good.

Christine Hines is the consumer and civil justice counsel for Public Citizen.