Arbitration’s Summer Soldiers: An Empirical Study of Arbitration Clauses in Consumer and Nonconsumer Contracts

We provide the first study of varying use of arbitration clauses across contracts within the same firms. Using a sample of 26 consumer contracts and 164 nonconsumer contracts from large public corporations, we compared the use of arbitration clauses in firms’ consumer and nonconsumer contracts. Over three-quarters of the consumer agreements provided for mandatory arbitration but less than 10% of the firms’ material nonconsumer, nonemployment contracts included arbitration clauses. The absence of arbitration provisions in the vast majority of material contracts suggests that, ex ante, many firms value, even prefer, litigation over arbitration to resolve disputes with peers. Our data suggest that the frequent use of arbitration clauses in the same firms’ consumer contracts may be an effort to preclude aggregate consumer action rather than, as often claimed, an effort to promote fair and efficient dispute resolution.