Klobuchar, FTC’s Ramirez to receive highest honors from oldest American consumer watchdog – National Consumers League

September 30, 2015

Contact: NCL Communications, Cindy Hoang (202) 207-2832, cindyh@nclnet.org or Carol McKay (724) 799-5392, carolm@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, will honor Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, with its highest honor, the Trumpeter Award, on Tuesday, October 6 in Washington, DC. The award has honored consumer and worker leaders for more than 40 years, and past honorees include: Senator Ted Kennedy, the award’s inaugural recipient, as well as Labor Secretaries Hilda Solis, Robert Reich, and Alexis Herman, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Senators Carl Levin and Paul Wellstone, Delores Huerta of the United Farm Workers, and many others. Last year’s recipient was Richard L. Trumka, AFL-CIO President.

“The Trumpeter Award is NCL’s highest honor, given to leaders who have dedicated their lives to improving the rights of consumers and workers. Senator Klobuchar and Chairwoman Ramirez embody these values, and their impressive careers have had a measurable impact on the marketplace for consumers,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Senator Klobuchar’s leadership on regulation to strengthen consumer product safety legislation, on ensuring a fair and competitive marketplace, and increasing accessibility to communications, specifically in the wireless space, made her a perfect candidate for the award. Chairwoman Ramirez was chosen for her tireless efforts to combat deceptive debt collectors and advertisers, to ensure the privacy and security of consumer data, and to promote competition in the marketplace. We are delighted to honor these remarkable women with this year’s awards.”

“I’m honored to join the late Senator Paul Wellstone, my friend from Minnesota and a champion for American consumers, as the recipient of the National Consumers League’s Trumpeter Award,” said Klobuchar. “In this complex economy, people need strong advocates who will fight to ensure the safety and integrity of the goods, products, and services they buy. They also deserve fair and competitive marketplaces and accessible communications networks. I am proud to receive this award and will remain vigilant in my work to protect the American consumer.”

In addition to the Trumpeter Award, NCL will honor Maria Elena Durazo, International Union Vice President for Civil Rights, Diversity and Immigration with UNITE HERE! with the Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award, named after an early leader of NCL.

“Durazo is a passionate advocate for workers, a visionary for America’s national and local labor movements, and a pioneer among male-dominated union leadership,” said Greenberg. “We celebrate her inspiring role as a driving force in the fight for working class Americans in Los Angeles and across the nation—she is a truly deserving recipient of an award named for our pioneering Progressive Era leader, Florence Kelley.”

I’m delighted to accept an award named for Florence Kelley, a pioneer for consumer and worker rights, and it will be an honor to share the stage with Senator Klobuchar and Chairwoman Ramirez,” said Durazo. “I accept this award on behalf of brave hotel and food service workers. Now more than ever, America’s working families need allies and advocates who help give them peace of mind, ensure a fairer marketplace and workplace, and provide the security that will allow our economy to thrive in ways that benefits all—not just businesses, but also the workers whose blood, sweat, and tears make them successful.”

The event will feature a reception, dinner, and speaking appearances by NCL leadership and the honorees, as well as:

  • Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
  • Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO

Media Advisory
What: National Consumers League’s 2015 Trumpeter Awards
When: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 | 7 p.m. Dinner and Presentation of Awards

Where: Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, 400 New Jersey Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

Members of the media are welcome to cover this event but must RSVP. For questions or to RSVP: Call Cindy Hoang, National Consumers League, (202) 207-2832 or Carol McKay, (724) 799-5392


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 www.nclnet.org.

Letter to Ramirez on FTC’s action against Vemma and the ongoing investigation into Herbalife Ltd.

September 25, 2015

The Honorable Edith Ramirez
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20580 

Re: FTC’s Action against Vemma and the Ongoing Investigation into Herbalife Ltd. 

Dear Madam Chairwoman:

Since 1899, the National Consumers League – of which I am Executive Director — has fought to protect and champion the importance of a safe marketplace for American consumers. More than a century later, NCL’s focus on and commitment to protecting consumers is unwavering. It is for this reason that we were pleased to see the Commission put a stop to Vemma’s deceptive business practices.[1] 

While some companies in the multi-level marketing (MLM) sector take clear steps to ensure that consumers fully understand their chances of success and truly focus efforts on retail sales, there remain many others that do not. As your actions against Vemma made clear, MLMs that deceive recruits with promises of easy riches with minimal risk can and will run afoul of the FTC’s enforcement authority.

The Commission’s actions to halt Vemma’s operations come more than eighteen months after the Commission opened its investigation of similar allegations against another multi-level marketing company – Herbalife, Ltd. We note that some of the very practices the FTC found problematic in the Vemma case are alleged to be occurring at Herbalife.

We would, therefore, greatly appreciate an update as to status of the Herbalife investigation so that we can be assured that it is moving forward and does not continue indefinitely with no resolution. As it stands today, consumers who have invested or may be considering investing in the Herbalife business opportunity have been left in limbo – not knowing whether the Commission considers the company to be a legitimate MLM or a fraudulent pyramid scheme. We believe that consumers have a right to expect speedy action by government law enforcement agencies when their financial well-being is at stake. 

I would welcome the opportunity to further discuss with your staff our concerns about MLM abuses  and approaches that the Commission could take going forward to further protect consumers, should that be helpful to you.

Thank you for your time and attention to our concerns. 

Sally Greenberg
Executive Director, National Consumers League

[1] Federal Trade Commission. “FTC Acts to Halt Vemma as Alleged Pyramid Scheme,” Press Release. August 26, 2015. Online: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2015/08/ftc-acts-halt-vemma-alleged-pyramid-scheme

How to make life harder for the hackers – National Consumers League

breyault.jpgThis post appeared as a guest blog on the Family Online Safety Institute site on September 24, 2015.

It’s easy to get discouraged about data security. With news of a new data breach practically every day — often affecting thousands or even millions of consumers — you may feel like throwing up your hands in frustration. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to preventing the harm that stems from data breach incidents, but you can reduce your risk by getting educated and taking some fairly simple steps to better protect your personal information.First, it’s important to understand that it’s practically impossible to 100% protect your personal information from cyberthieves. So, short of completely unplugging from the digital economy, what’s a consumer to do? Here are five simple steps that YOU can take to make life harder for the hackers.

#1 – Don’t make life any easier than it needs to be for crooks

Keep your digital hygiene up to snuff. That means installing software updates, especially for your Web browser and operating system but also for your antivirus and other Internet-connected apps and programs. Cyberthieves know that many consumers don’t keep their software up to date, so they take advantage of known vulnerabilities to attack out-of-date computers.

#2 – Use strong, unique passwords

Cybercrooks count on consumers re-using the same email/password combination password across multiple websites. Because of this, if crooks hack the user data for one website, they quickly use those same email address + password combinations at other sites to try increase their access. You can help reduce this risk by using unique passwords at different websites. A password manager can be an invaluable tool in helping create strong, unique passwords without having to go through the hassle of trying to remember them all.

#3 – Take advantage of multi-factor authentication, especially for your primary email account

With multi-factor authentication (also known as two-factor authentication, MFA or TFA), you’ll add an additional layer of defense. Instead of just needing an email address and password, crooks will need access to another device – usually your cell phone – in order to access your sensitive accounts. Many online services currently offer MFA (here’s a handy list), so be sure to take advantage of it, especially for your primary email service.

#4 – Check your credit report regularly

Even with the best online security, fraud can still happen. Make sure to pull your credit report regularly and dispute any suspicious activity, such as lines of credit being opened that you don’t recognize. By law, consumers can access their credit report for free once per year from each of the major credit reporting bureaus at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. You may also want to consider putting a fraud alert or even a credit freeze on your credit reports.

#5 – If you suspect identity theft, act quickly!

ID thieves can do immense damage to your credit, potentially costing you thousands of dollars in higher interest rates, lost job opportunities and delayed tax refunds (just to name a few potential harms). If you think that there’s something fishy with your credit report or you receive another warning of ID theft, take action sooner rather than later. The Federal Trade Commission has a great step by step guide for recovering from ID theft at www.identitytheft.gov.

BONUS – Get educated about other tools to help reduce your data security risk! – The National Consumers League is a proud partner of AT&T’s DigitalYou campaign. They offer great tips for protecting your privacy and security and useful tools for Internet newbies, young people, parents and  people with disabilities. Check it out!

Kickstarter advances public responsibility over profit – National Consumers League

sg.jpgAs game-changing technologies like Uber, AirBnb, and Dropbox consider going public with profitability for founders and investors in the billions, it is interesting to read that Kickstarter, a crowdfunding startup, is choosing to take another course.The founders of Kickstarter are opting to become a B Corporation, which is a voluntary designation certified by a nonprofit group called B Lab. According to the New York Times, B Lab requires companies to meet rigorous environmental and social responsibility standards, which they report annually to their shareholders.  And according to the B Corporations website, “B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk.” Although the status has no legal impact, it does speak volumes about Kickstarter’s vision and commitment to better business practices. The e-commerce site Etsy, which went public in April, and Warby Parker, the glasses retailer that is injecting some much needed competition into the prescription glasses market, are two other companies that have decided to become B Corporations. The B Corporations website reports that the growing number of Certified B Corporations from 33 countries and over 60 different industries are all “working together toward one unifying goal: to define success in business.”

I think these new technologies are exciting and incredibly good for the market. But so often a few lucky and ingenious entrepreneurs and their equally lucky investors earn the vast majority of the profits when the companies go public. Kickstarter founders Perry Chen and Yancey Strickler have very clearly conveyed that they do not want to go public in the New York Times piece saying, “We don’t want to ever sell or go public … That would push the company to make choices that I don’t think are in the best interests of the company.”

Kickstarter has been profitable in the last three years at the tune of about $5-$10 million and pays dividends to investors and shares profits with employees. Both founders own stock and will earn income based on their initial investments as the company grows and earns profits. Kickstarter also donates five percent of its profits to groups that fight inequality and to others that promote the arts.

The Kickstarter business model allows startups to put their idea before the public to determine whether these ideas are worthy of investment. It is a worthy mission to advance business in the name of accountability and transparency, which Kickstarter and all B Corporations are committed to doing. Other companies would be doing a service to all consumers by committing to do the same.

After 80 years, the FDA updates food-safety regulations – National Consumers League

food.jpgBy Ali Schklair, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow 

In 1938, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C). Regulated by the FDA, the law set safety standards for the manufacturing and distribution of food, drugs, and cosmetics. But, our food (drug and cosmetic) system has changed dramatically since the 1930s. 

Today, most of our raw and processed foods come from industrial farms. The popularity of frozen and prepackaged foods has skyrocketed. And imported foods account for 15 percent of the US food supply, including almost 50 percent of fresh fruit and 20 percent of fresh vegetables. While everything from farming practices to eating habits has evolved since the 1930s, the FDA has followed the same safety standards implemented almost a century ago.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was first enacted in 2011, is a breakthrough for food safety in the US.  On Thursday, September 10th, 2015, the final preventive control rules for human and animal food were released. These rules are a critical piece of FSMA’s prevention-based approach to improving food safety. Additional rules addressing produce safety and food imports are expected to be finalized and released by the end of October. Once all rules are in effect, the US will have a food safety oversight system that requires producers and processors to take preemptive action against the growth and spread of pathogens.

A focus on prevention reflects how food policy and public health frameworks have shifted in America. Instead of relying on reactive interventions, today, health initiatives focus on identifying and preventing hazards before they reach the public. Prevention strategies are used to address public health problems like the flu, obesity, lung cancer, and now foodborne illness.

But, FSMA will only be successful in carrying out these preventive measures if the FDA has access to adequate funding. Currently, the House and Senate appropriations bills for the 2016 fiscal year do not meet funding needs. The Food Safety Modernization Act has the potential to overhaul our current food safety regulatory system, which will hopefully lead to less food contamination and less foodborne illnesses. However, without sufficient funding, we could be stuck with the same antiquated system for another eighty years. 

Obesity doesn’t discriminate, but should preventive care be more personalized? – National Consumers League

obesity.jpgBy Ali Schklair, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow 

It isn’t news that obesity is an urgent problem in our country. According to a recent study by the CDC, over one third of US adults are obese. Education and health professionals have presented numerous strategies to combat this growing epidemic. Still, in order to enact real change, there needs to be a greater focus on how overweight and obesity affects specific populations.

Growing up with a brother with disabilities, I was exposed to the many challenges my family faced trying to help him develop healthy habits. Nutrition and weight were always difficult issues to manage. As a kid, my brother was very skinny. He was taking a medication that sped up his metabolism and suppressed his appetite. My parents would beg him to eat anything, even if the food was mostly fat and sugar. But as he got older, changed medications, and moved out of the house, he began to gain weight. Traditional weight loss methods have not worked for him. My brother faces a unique set of challenges, but he certainly isn’t alone. 

Obesity rates for adults with disabilities are 58 percent higher than they are for adults without disabilities. Additionally, obesity rates for children with disabilities are 38 percent higher than they are for children without disabilities. These numbers put adults and children with disabilities at a much higher risk of developing weight-related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancers.

So why are these rates so high? As is the case with my brother, many people with disabilities are prescribed medications that cause sluggishness or weight gain. Also, any physical disability affecting motor or balance issues, sight, or stamina can make getting enough exercise challenging. Many people with disabilities are sensitive to the taste, color, texture, and smell of certain foods, which can lead to limited food repertoires.

Along with physical or medical challenges, there are lifestyle differences that make weight loss for adults with disabilities especially difficult.  Adults with disabilities often rely on support staff, family members, job coaches, and nurses to help them through their day. Many adults with disabilities also have little control over their finances. This means food is often chosen and cooked for them, usually the quickest and easiest options.

The disability population faces a range of obstacles when it comes to addressing the obesity epidemic. But it is not just people with disabilities that face unique challenges. In its polling, the CDC has outlined how socioeconomic status, sex, and ethnicity can all contribute to the prevalence of obesity. Once we are better able to understand the barriers to eating healthy and getting adequate physical exercise, we can tailor strategies to address the unique needs of differing populations.

Consumer group issues statement of concern on anti-vaccine rhetoric in Republican Presidential debate – National Consumers League

September 18, 2015

Contact: Cindy Hoang, National Consumers League, cindyh@nclnet.org or (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy group, in reaction to this week’s discussion on vaccines during the Republican Presidential candidates debate, which included a number of reckless statements from several candidates has released the following statement, which may be attributed to NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg: 

NCL is a strong supporter of the safe and effective vaccine schedule for children in the United States as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We are fortunate today that children in America are largely protected from diseases like whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, typhoid, small pox and other diseases that once killed and maimed millions of children in America.

In this week’s debate, Donald Trump reiterated previous reckless and unsubstantiated connections between vaccines and autism. He continues to claim that he knows a “perfectly healthy” child who went for his/her vaccinations and then developed autism. Senator Paul also used the platform to show his support for both vaccines and “freedom.” Paul does not believe parents should be required to vaccination their children in order to attend public school. 

Our research has shown that Americans are confused about vaccines, and understandably so. For over a generation, we have lived virtually free from many of these diseases due to the effectiveness of the vaccines that have stamped them out. We have lost perspective on how deadly they can be. We need our politicians to be sending a very clear message about the importance of vaccines to our health and how narrow the exceptions should be in order to keep us safe as a community.


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 www.nclnet.org.

Ride sharing services battle it out – National Consumers League

sg.jpgThe war is on in ride sharing business!  According to the Wall Street Journal, Lyft is joining forces with a Chinese start up – Didi, which provides ride-hailing services so companies in the alliance can share services and ally themselves against Uber. Lyft hopes the alliance will draw more international users because the app, which is used in China, will be usable on Lyft in the US. So customers won’t have to pay a foreign transaction fee, which another part of Lyft’s strategy. 

Uber is now available in 60 countries! It’s valued at more than $50 billion. But, it has fierce competition everywhere it is present and its competitors are also earning money hand over fist.

Have you ever heard of BlaBlaCar? I hadn’t either – they are a European start up valued at $1.5 billion that brokers long distance ride sharing between drivers and passengers. It’s huge and operates in 19 countries and has 20 million users. BlaBla thrives where there are gaps in public transportation or where it’s too expensive. For example, a customer can grab a ride from Paris to Prague for $57.  BlaBla doesn’t anticipate a US presence anytime soon because gas is cheap here and car ownership is affordable, unlike in many EU countries.

I think these “disruptive” technologies are exciting and good for the economy, including Uber, Lyft, BlaBlaCar and other ride sharing start-ups.  In the case of Uber, Sidecar, and Lyft, the fight isn’t to try to drive them out of business because they aren’t unionized taxi drivers, because it’s not going to happen and consumers love the service so it’s a losing battle.

The model instead should be what Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien suggested. His legislation would certify that in Seattle, non-profit organizations are eligible to represent drivers. These organizations would receive a list of all the drivers in the city that have performed a minimum number of trips and will have 120 days to show that a majority of these employees want to be represented. When verified, the non-profit will speak on behalf of the employees and give them a place at the table. The city is essentially saying, “If you want to do business in our town you have to let drivers organize and give them a voice.” I think that’s the way to go. Don’t drive out the technology, just organize the workforce and give them a voice. Uber’s design is brilliant, but workers must be able to share that wealth and have a say in how the company operates and the many benefits it can provide to workers and consumers.


Implementation of automatic braking systems could save lives – National Consumers League

sg.jpgConsumers received some pretty good news this week – 10 automakers will be installing automatic braking systems, representing 57 percent of the auto industry to do so. These systems, which will become standard equipment, use sensors to detect possible collisions. But, there is a catch.

The problem here is that not all automakers will be included, as this is a voluntary effort and there is no “due date” for these systems to be built into cars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts valuable vehicle crash testing and is supported by the insurance industry, will be working on design and implementation.

Here’s the method to their madness: the government agency that regulates auto safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), could write a regulation to require braking systems to be standard equipment, and that takes a minimum of five years. But, if they can get the automakers to do it voluntarily, that speeds up the process. The downside is that automakers tend to drag their feet in implementing a lot of safety technology unless forced to do so by law. Volvo installed the automatic braking systems in several recent models and accidents decreased by 15 percent.

This is a good development for automotive safety because imagine that instead of having to sense that someone was pulling onto the road just as you were driving past or that someone was coming behind you at high speed – an automatic system of sensors would stop your car or the driver behind you. That could prevent countless accidents, injuries, and fatalities.

This is all on a hypothetical basis because we need all automakers to agree to support consumer safety and we need a faster timeline for when this technology will be implemented. The National Consumers League will be ready to cheer on these developments when they occur.

A Connection Between Safety Recalls and Executive Compensation – National Consumers League

sg.jpgThank you to Gretchen Morgenson, writing in this Sunday’s The New York Times, about the connection between outsized executive pay packages and the incidence of safety recalls. 

Morgenson is a hero in the consumer community for her exposés on illegal corporate practices. She describes findings of a University of Notre Dame study that takes a look at companies that rely heavily on stock options in their executive compensation packages and the disinclination to recall a product with safety. What the study, titled “Throwing Caution to the Wind: The Effect of CEO Stock Option Pay on the Incidence of Product Safety Problems,” found that was surprising to me is that “CEO option pay is associated with both a higher likelihood of experiencing a recall as well as a higher number of recalls.”

The researchers studied two industries both regulated by the FDA: food companies and pharmaceutical companies. Other notable findings from the study are:

“Product recalls were less common among companies whose chief executive founded the companies or had long tenure there. The study’s authors speculate that such executives may be more risk-averse because they are generally large shareholders and their personal reputations are intertwined with the company.”

The lessons from this study that boards who are hiring and designing pay and benefits for CEOs should take away is that they need to align the interests of not just shareholders, but also consumers when considering heavy use of stock options in these pay packages.