Remembering Joan Mulhern – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The public interest movement has lost a great champion. Joan Mulhern, consumer and environmental advocate, succumbed to liver disease at the age of 51 this past week. Joan worked for Earth Justice as Senior Counsel for the past decade, but I first met her when she worked as counsel for Public Citizen and while I was at Consumers Union. These were the days when there were a plethora of bills introduced to “reform” the medical malpractice system. It was almost a full-time job to track them. Reform, unfortunately, meant putting caps on damages, limiting attorneys fees and placing statute of limitations on claims, no matter how serious the injury. All of these tactics were intended to limit access to justice for injured patients.  We were visiting a Senator’s office and Joan had a bill in front of her for the first time. In no time flat,  she had analyzed the proposal and found its flaws. Joan was whip smart and indefatigable.

Last February, Joan reached out to me to ask whether the National Consumers League would join in lobbying for full access to the civil justice system. Several odious bills had made their way through the House Judiciary Committee. I said yes, of course, because it was very hard to say no to Joan, and we visited members together to explain our concerns. After a series of visits arranged by Joan and her colleagues, the bills died.

I will miss Joan’s warm smile and friendship . More importantly, the environmental movement will surely miss Joan Mulhern’s fine legal mind and passion for her work. We all owe Joan a debt of gratitude for devoting her legal career to the cause of public justice. May she rest in peace.

The real cost of cheap goods: The scary truth behind some Christmas ornaments – National Consumers League

makiBy Reid Maki, Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards

With the holidays upon us, many American look forward to trimming their Christmas tree and spending time with their loved ones, especially their children. For many kids, Christmas invokes the happiest of memories, but not all kids are so lucky.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, noted earlier this month that many children in India are virtually enslaved in sweatshops that manufacture Christmas ornaments. Check out what Brown had to say in this video and learn about the “nightmare” suffered by Indian children who make ornaments for consumers in the U.S. and other countries in the Western hemisphere.

In the video, Brown talks about a rescue raid by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) which freed 14 of the child laborers—some as young as eight—from a sweatshop in Delhi. BBA, like the Child Labor Coalition is a member of the Global March Against Child Labor, an international umbrella group that works to reduce the worst forms of child labor.

“Children are being asked to work 17, 18, 19 hours a day,” said Brown. “They are being asked to work in unsanitary conditions. They are being asked to work without sunlight. Some of them are lacerated because they are working with glass. We found these children in this basement, they were not being paid, they had been trafficked…” Several children had been beaten by their crew leaders. The rescuers actually found 12 of the children imprisoned in a locked 6-foot by 6-foot cell.

The children are now free, but many children around the world are not so fortunate. Brown notes that there are tens of thousands of sweatshops around the world, where grossly underpaid workers, including many children, produce goods for us.

“The people I know in America who do not want to celebrate Christmas on the backs of the exploitation of these young children would be appalled if they knew that these decorations and trinkets and gifts and presents were coming because children had been violently kept prisoner to make these goods.” The UNESCO Institute for Statistics notes that 61 million children around the world of primary age do not attend school—often because they work instead. “That’s an unacceptable thing for 2012,” said Brown.

India is currently considering a ban on all child labor for workers under 18. However, even if the ban passes, enforcement of the law would provide enormous challenges.

In its annual report this year, the U.S. Department of Labor found that 134 goods are still produced by forced labor and child labor in 74 countries. In India, children help produce more than 20 different goods ranging from bricks to carpets to leather goods and often do so under the harshest conditions.

As you put up and take down your Christmas tree and put the bulbs away, think for a moment about the small child who might have made those decorations, who might have been beaten because he or she did not work hard enough; who may have cut his or her hand on the glass of broken bulbs; or who dreams of the school that he or she is not allowed to attend.

When we buy products at ridiculously low prices, there is often a reason for those low prices. The real cost—as Gordon Brown notes—may be the freedom and the safety of children.

Read Brown’s excellent Huffington Post column about the raid here and check out what other products we use that may be manufactured by child labor and forced labor.

Consumers who wish to support the Child Labor Coalition’s and the National Consumers League’s efforts to educate the public about child labor issues may make a donation here.

Exciting LifeSmarts expansion in 2012! – National Consumers League

By Lisa Hertzberg, LifeSmarts Program Director

LifeSmarts is experiencing exciting expansion this year, thanks to an emphasis on outreach and a motivating new partnership with the national Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) student leadership organization.

Five new state partners have joined our ranks: We are pleased to be actively partnering with the Maine Jump$tart Coalition, Georgia 4-H, the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, Colorado Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), and Idaho FCCLA. We are working together to introduce LifeSmarts’ consumer content to students and educators through Training Camps, Webinars, and other state-based outreach efforts.

These new coordinators join 30 veteran state coordinators who use LifeSmarts to deliver meaningful consumer education to thousands of students across the country every year.

Uniting with FBLA allows LifeSmarts to reach student leaders and Chapter Advisers across the country. We have created room within LifeSmarts for FBLA Chapters to compete – encouraging FBLA teams to use the monthly TeamSmarts challenge, and saving a spot for an at-large FBLA team at the National LifeSmarts Championship next April in Atlanta.

We also built a LifeSmarts Competition just for FBLA Chapters. Two hundred FBLA teams competed in the first-ever FLBA-LifeSmarts Challenge this fall, with a second chance to compete this winter. The top 18 teams will compete head-to-head at the FBLA National Leadership Conference next June in Anaheim.

It’s been an exciting 2012!

Consumer group applauds David Sunflower Seeds for reversing deceptive sodium labeling practices – National Consumers League

December 19, 2012

Contact: NCL Communications, Carol McKay, (412) 945-3242,

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization founded in 1899 to protect and promote the rights of consumers and workers, today sent a letter to David Sunflower Seeds, a subsidiary of ConAgra congratulating it for discontinuing misleading sodium labeling in its David Sunflower Seeds products.

NCL originally wrote to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about David Sunflower Seeds in July of 2011, raising concerns about the misleading sodium values listed on its labels. While the instructions on the package told consumers to pop the entire seed in their mouth in order to crack it open, the sodium content listed was for only the actual kernel and not the salt on the shell.  In its letter, NCL emphasized that this labeling was deceptive and misleading to consumers.

Today, NCL is congratulating David Sunflower Seeds for making a change to their labels so that they now reflect the total sodium content of the product. The government recommends that consumers take in no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. But for many consumers, including those over 51, African Americans, and those with certain diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, the recommended amount is just 1,500 mg per day. Excessive consumption of sodium can result in serious health consequences, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.  With the rates of these diseases increasing worldwide, it is especially important for consumers to moderate their sodium intake if they hope to maintain their health.  Eating one bag of David Sunflower Seeds, which contains two and a half quarter cup servings, would account for 132 percent of one’s daily sodium intake.

“We are so pleased that David Sunflower Seeds has chosen to label its products more accurately,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “Consumers deserve and need the ability to make healthy decisions about what they eat. For those with specific health problems, being able to control the amount of sodium in their diet is particularly important. Before this change, the packaging on these sunflower seeds was extremely deceptive; while the package said that a serving had about 6 percent of your daily sodium, the actual amount was closer to 53 percent.”

New labels on the product reflect the levels of sodium for both the seed consumed on its own and the salt on the shell of the seed. “We are glad that this company has chosen to do the right thing and create a label that is much more consumer friendly,” said Greenberg. “We hope other companies will follow their lead and put a halt to deceptive labeling.”


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

NCL statement on the passing of Senator Inouye – National Consumers League

December 19, 2012

Contact: Carol McKay, NCL Communications,, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League is saddened to learn of the death of Senator Daniel Inouye, the senior senator from Hawaii and the president pro-tempore of the Senate. We salute him for his distinguished service to the nation.

Senator Inouye represented Hawaii in Congress — first as a representative, from 1959 to 1963, when Hawaii first bccame a state,  and then as a senator. As a high-school student, Inouye witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Inouye was always among the first to speak out against injustice, whether interned Japanese Americans, Filipino World War II veterans, Native Americans and Native Hawaii.

Senator Inouye was injured in battle during World War II  and had his arm amputated without anesthetic, as doctors were concerned that drugs  would drive his blood pressure too low.

Inouye studied law at George Washington University, returned to Hawaii, and became a member of the U.S. House on August 21, 1959, the day it became a state. While in Congress, he served on the Senate Watergate Committee and later a special committee on the Iran-Contra scandal as well. He also gave the keynote speech at the chaotic 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. He was asked recently how he wished to be remembered. “I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did OK,” he said.

The story of Senator Dan Inouye is the story of modern Hawaii. During his eight decades of public service, the Senator helped build and shape Hawaii.

When the Democrats regained control in the 2006 elections, Inouye became chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, a Committee with which NCL frequently works. He left that post two years later to become chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Inouye became president pro-tem of the Senate in 2010, when Senator Robert Byrd died. Byrd is the only senator to serve longer than Inouye (51 years, 5 months, and 26 days versus 49 years, 349 days). He had intended to run for reelection in 2016, at age 92. His last words were “Aloha.”


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

The rising costs of asthma and the need for medication adherence – National Consumers League

92_ayannaBy Ayanna Johnson, Health Policy Associate

This post originally appeared at Mom’

The burden of asthma on the health care system continues to grow in the 21st Century. Asthma effects more than 25 million Americans (8 percent of the population). Since 2001, the number of people diagnosed with asthma increased by 4.3 million, resulting in a 6 percent rise in overall healthcare costs. In 2007 alone, asthma was estimated to cost the United States $56 billion in health care costs and lost productivity.

Children have experienced increasing rates of asthma especially those living in areas with unclean air.  About 1 in 10 children have asthma, compared to 1 in 12 adults. The Centers for Disease Control reported that the largest rise in asthma, almost a 50 percent increase in new cases from 2001 to 2009, was among African American children.

Asthma, the chronic inflammation and constriction of the airways, can be treated and managed with appropriate medication. Almost half of all people with asthma in the United States have had an asthma attack; many of which could have been prevented with proper management. As, the incidence of asthma continues to grow, managing asthma is important to prevent further strain on the health care system.

Costs rise for asthmatics who do not take their medication as directed, leading to more missed days of school or work, hospitalizations and re-admissions and general decline in quality of life. A recent study found that 50 percent of children aren’t taking their medicine as prescribed, often because parents were afraid of medication side effects.  Approximately 11 percent of insured patients can’t afford their asthma medicine. Increasing the patient share of out-of-pocket costs for children’s asthma medications, led to more children needing emergency treatment for complications related to asthma (Karaca-Mandi et al 2012, JAMA).

Following a medication plan, or medication adherence, is important for asthmatics; it improves health outcomes and decreases overall costs. There are numerous reasons why people don’t take their medication as directed. It can be hard to understand that a condition like asthma is a chronic disease that needs to be managed daily.

Helping patients, parents, and caregivers understand asthma and talk with their health care providers about medication management can help to lower asthma health care costs and unnecessary emergencies. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends developing an asthma action plan tailored to each individual to help control asthma, avoiding triggers for asthma, remaining physically active and consistently monitoring your asthma with your health care provider for changes.

The Script Your Future campaign, organized and developed by the National Consumers League, helps address the medication adherence problem for major chronic diseases, including asthma.  Patients need access to education to help take control of their asthma, especially for reasons that make sense to them. This campaign provides tools to manage medicines and sample questions to help start a conversation between patients and their   doctor, pharmacist or nurse about their medicine.  It also has information to help patients understand their condition. Many things—from allergies to poor air quality, stress, and anxiety—can trigger asthma. This  video explains more about what causes asthma and what patients can do to manage their health.  An important step to becoming adherent is to make the commitment to take your medicine. Script Your Future has a pledge tool—patients can pledge to take their medicines or even pledge to help their child take their medicine too.

Consumers beware: Learn how to avoid buying flood-damaged cars – National Consumers League

NCL works closely with advocates in the auto industry who know a lot about cars damaged in crashes, rebuilt wrecks, and flood cars. Hurricane Sandy brought new opportunities for fraudsters to pawn off cars damaged by flood waters to unknowing consumers.According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, there have already been some 230,000 flood related auto claims reported by insurance companies as a result of Hurricane Sandy. In addition to these insurance reported claims, there have been many thousands more in claims from both self-insured fleets as well as private parties who did not have insurance coverage for their vehicles.

The National Salvage Vehicle Reporting Program (NSVRP) is recognized by the US Department of Justice as an independent third party standards body for the federal government’s comprehensive database on vehicle damage history. NSVRP has already identified more than 40,000 water/flood total loss vehicles that have been listed for sale by the salvage auctions. Thousands have already been sold at auction since the beginning of November. A number of these are being offered for sale under clean title paperwork – which is false and deceptive – and in some cases apparently in violation of state branding requirements. Many others have been moved to other states before being offered for sale. Once these vehicles have been sold at a first salvage auction, some are likely to be transferred by the first buyer to a different auction and then resold as clean title vehicles without any documentation or visible photographic indication that they were originally a flood total loss.

NSVRP is monitoring much of the salvage activity related to Hurricane Sandy. To avoid buying a flood car, we urge consumers to check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of any car they are considering buying – it is found under the windshield on the driver’s side of the vehicle. Check that VIN by going to the database of the National Motor Vehicle Titling Information System, found at The cost is nominal, $2.00 per report – or possibly a little more depending on the information being sought.

NSVRP has found that flood damaged vehicles with clean titles are showing up at salvage auctions. As a result, NSVRP, which works closely with state regulators, is urging states to strongly consider reviewing their statutes and regulations and recommend that if possible that jurisdictions try to implement the following best practices:

  • Make sure their state has an available title brand for flood and water damaged vehicles.
  • Make sure the state supports branding carry forward provisions to reduce the opportunities for title washing between jurisdictions when vehicles are transferred between states.
  • Require mandatory non-repairable branding on vehicles that are flood vehicles and salt water damaged vehicles.
  • Require mandatory non-repairable branding on vehicles that have been damaged to 80% of ACV or some other similar threshold.
  • Check out the NSVRP Web site for more information at

The best advice is for a consumer not to buy any used vehicle until it has been thoroughly checked out by a competent automotive technician who has no relation to the seller. This is especially true today and for the foreseeable future given that many Hurricane Sandy vehicles we be resold on the open market for the next year or more – many with an undisclosed title history.

Also, buy from someone with a good reputation who will stand behind what they sell. Always test drive before you buy, and always require that you can have the vehicle inspected at a shop of your choosing before deciding to buy. As always, two good rules to live by for consumers: Better safe than sorry and caveat emptor!

NCL statement on the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011 – National Consumers League

December 14, 2012

Contact: NCL Communications, Carol McKay, (412) 945-3242,

Washington, DC–The following statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League:

“The National Consumers League applauds today’s vote to report S.1223, the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011, out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This action represents an important first step towards better protecting consumers’ sensitive geolocation data. These data are collected and used in a largely hidden marketplace over which consumers have little information and almost no control. The profileration of location tracking technology in smartphones and other devices and applications has made it clear that more needs to be done to protect this data from misuse. We strongly believe that it is in the public interest for consumers to be made aware of how their geolocation data will be used by companies.

Today’s vote shows that protection consumers’ location data is an issue with bipartisan appeal. We applaud the leadership of Senator Franken and the bill’s co-sponsors as well as the dedicated coalition of advocates from the consumer rights, privacy, and domestic violence prevention communities for this victory. We look forward to continuing to support this bill as it moves forward in Congress.”


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Possible Brazil Mad Cow episode troubling – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow

In a scary piece of news, it has come to light this past week that Brazil may have experienced a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a disease more commonly known as “mad cow” disease.  While the animal became ill and died in December of 2010, it was not until April of 2011 that the first testing was done, and not until last week that the final tests were complete.  This final set of testing, which was carried out at a laboratory in the UK, indicated the presence of the proteins that cause BSE.

There are several reasons why this announcement is troubling.  The first is the length of time that it took to confirm the presence of the disease.  Between the cow’s onset of symptoms in 2010 and the confirmation of its illness last week, almost two years passed.  During these two years, Brazil was not subject to the stringent safety checks that impact nations where there has been a confirmed case of BSE.

Additionally, this event has brought further attention to an important problem plaguing the meat safety system of this country, which is set up with several control points to ensure safe product.  First, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does a thorough review to ensure that foreign nations have food safety systems that are “equivalent” to ours before those countries are ever allowed to send meat here.  Secondly, FSIS does routine audits of those foreign systems to ensure equivalency is being maintained.  Finally, FSIS does pathogen testing of meat entering the US to ensure that it is safe.  This system is designed to guarantee a safe supply of foreign meat for US consumers.

Unfortunately, as has been reported recently, the number of foreign inspections being carried out by FSIS has decreased dramatically over the last several years, from an average of 26.4 per year from 2001 to 2008 to an average of 9.8 between 2009 and 2012.

In a time of fiscal austerity and the race to save money, it can be tempting for federal agencies to cut expensive, time intensive programs like inspection.  However, as the ongoing rash of foodborne illness outbreaks illustrates, we cannot be too vigilant when it comes to our food supply.


‘Why we’re investing in America’ – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I read something unexpected in the Wall Street Journal (November 20, 2012) recently. William E. Conway, Jr., co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm with assets of more than $150 billion in management, the third largest such firm in the world, wrote an Op-Ed piece entitled,“Why We’re Investing in America.” Conway noted that his firm has invested in nearly every region of the world over 25 years, but these days they are putting their investments in the United States because, in his words:

The US is characterized by inherent attributes that are often taken for granted: freedom, the rule of law, confidence in regulatory agencies. America has admired universities, the deepest and most-liquid capital markets, peerless medical systems and pockets of innovation such as Silicon Valley-all of which, though not perfect, are highly advanced and function smoothly. Nowhere on the globe can my firm invest in companies with as much confidence as we do in the US. And while we take comfort in the long-term safety of US assets, we also see opportunities for growth. This is because of a combination of very low interest rates, a strengthening housing market, and significant domestic energy discoveries.

I don’t know much about Conway except that he’s very rich and the Carlyle Group has been implicated in dealings with the Bush family, Middle East and even Osama Bin Laden, and recently bought a chain of nursing homes. They undoubtedly invest in some odious companies and industries. But I’m making a different point. I quote from Conway’s piece because I think it’s an astounding acknowledgement from a powerful US businessman that the United States, for all of our strict regulations and our corporate taxation that business loves to complain about – is a great place to invest precisely because we don’t suffer from widespread corruption, we have a highly educated and productive workforce, and orderly markets that are strictly regulated (not strictly enough, as we learned from the disastrous sub prime debacle of a few years ago and as former FDIC Chair Sheila Bair points out with frequency in her excellent book, Bull By the Horns) and business thrives under these conditions. Indeed, Conway talks of confidence in regulatory agencies in the US; they are predictable and they operate under the rules of administrative law. Conway ends the piece with this:

Many in America and beyond have been paralyzed by fear of the fiscal cliff, frustrated with Washington’s partisanship, mesmerized by the presidential election or stunned by the post-Great Recession recovery. Any way you look at it, though, now is a great time to invest – and there is no better place than America.

His Op-Ed tells us that a strong regulatory structure that attempts to keep capitalism in check is not only good for consumers, citizens and taxpayers, but also good for business.