National Consumers League sues Starbucks, alleging coffee giant deceives customers with claims of “100% ethical” coffee, tea

January 10, 2024

Media contact: Matt Lopez, 805-377-2950, matt.lopez@berlinrosen.com; Melody Merin, 202-207-2831, melodym@nclnet.org

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, on Wednesday, January 10, 2024, filed a lawsuit alleging that Starbucks is falsely and deceptively claiming “100% ethical” coffee and tea sourcing, detailing widespread evidence the company relies on farms and cooperatives that commit egregious labor and human rights violations. 

The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, notes that Starbucks has responded to its consumers’ demand for responsible corporate practices by launching a yearslong campaign to brand itself as a leader in ethical coffee and tea sourcing, including by developing its own set of “Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices” verification standards. In one promotional video featured during the 2023 holiday season, a Starbucks spokesperson says that when he drinks Starbucks coffee, “I know it was ethically sourced.” 

In reality, the lawsuit alleges, the company’s marketing misleads consumers and fails to convey the rampant sourcing from coffee and tea farms and cooperatives with a documented history of child labor, forced labor, sexual harassment and assault and other human rights abuses. 

“On every bag of coffee and box of K-cups sitting on grocery store shelves, Starbucks is telling consumers a lie,” said Sally Greenberg, chief executive officer of the National Consumers League. “The facts are clear: there are significant human rights and labor abuses across Starbucks’ supply chain, and consumers have a right to know exactly what they’re paying for. NCL is committed to exposing and reining in these deceptive practices and holding Starbucks accountable for living up to its claims.” 

In 2022, for instance, the Brazilian labor prosecutor issued a complaint against Starbucks’ largest Brazilian supplier, citing working conditions analogous to slavery, including illegally trafficking more than 30 migrant workers. At the Cooxupé collective, which accounts for 40 percent of Starbucks’ Brazilian coffee supply and has received the “C.A.F.E. Practices” certification, investigators found that workers put in excessive hours and carry coffee sacks weighing over 100 pounds on their backs. 

“Starbucks’ failure to adopt meaningful reforms to its coffee and tea sourcing practices in the face of these critiques and documented labor abuses on its source farms is wholly inconsistent with a reasonable consumer’s understanding of what it means to be ‘committed to 100% ethical’ sourcing,” the complaint reads. “Similarly, Starbucks’ failure to disclose to consumers the unreliability of these certification programs and their limitations as a guarantee of ethical sourcing are misleading omissions material to the decision-making of a reasonable consumer.”

To protect consumers who may unknowingly be buying unethically sourced coffee or tea — and paying a premium for those products — National Consumers League seeks an order enjoining Starbucks from further engaging in deceptive advertising and requiring the company to run a corrective advertising campaign. Making good on its representations to consumers would require Starbucks to significantly reform its sourcing and monitoring practices to ensure that workers on the farms and cooperatives that supply its coffee and tea products are treated fairly and in accordance with the law. 

Across Starbucks’ Global Supply Chain, Pattern of Abuses Emerges

Over the last decade, a broad range of investigations by government agencies and journalists has uncovered a clear pattern of labor and human rights abuses at Starbucks’ preferred farms and cooperatives — even those that have received the company’s own “C.A.F.E. Practices” certification.

  • At the James Finlay plantation in Kenya, a Starbucks tea source, undercover reporters with the BBC exposed rampant sexual abuse, including supervisors forcing women into having sex in exchange for work. Thousands of Finlay workers have also filed a class action lawsuit alleging grueling working conditions that wore down their bodies and detailing Finlay’s practice of firing chronically injured workers instead of providing them with healthcare. Finlay workers are reportedly paid the equivalent of $30 per week. 
  • At the Starbucks-certified Mesas Farm in Brazil, law enforcement officers in 2022 rescued 17 workers, including a 15-, 16- and 17-year old, from slavery-like conditions, which included outdoor work, unprotected from the elements, that required workers to lift coffee sacks weighing over 130 pounds. The Mesas Farm has also failed to provide the workers with the personal protective equipment that is required by Brazilian law. 
  • At three different Starbucks certified farms in Guatemala, Channel 4 found children under 13 years old working 40 or 50 hours per week. 

Although Starbucks has repeatedly been made aware of the rampant abuses at its supplier and “C.A.F.E. Practices” certified farms and cooperatives, the company has failed to respond with meaningful action.

“Starbucks misleadingly fails to disclose facts material to consumer purchasing decisions, including that many of its supposedly ethical suppliers have in fact relied on forced and/or child labor, i.e. that C.A.F.E. Practices certification does not guarantee the absence of forced and child labor,” the complaint reads.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 nclnet.org.

Nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization to present annual awards to Former HHS Secretary and Former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, California AG Rob Bonta, and child marriage survivor and activist Fraidy Reiss on Wednesday, October 11

October 11, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC –The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, has announced it will honor former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and former Governor of Kansas Kathleen Sebelius and California Attorney General Rob Bonta with its highest honor, the Trumpeter Award, on Wednesday, October 11 in Washington, DC.

In addition to the Trumpeter Award, NCL will honor activist Fraidy Reiss with the 2023 Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award, named for NCL’s first general secretary and one of the most influential figures in 20th century American history. Reiss is a forced marriage survivor and activist who founded Unchained At Last.

The National Consumers League is also proud to announce that it has bestowed an honorary Trumpeter Award to President Joseph Biden for his exceptional work to protect consumers and workers. President Biden’s focus on safeguarding hard-working Americans from the burdens of hidden or junk fees is unprecedented and deserves special recognition, says NCL’s Chief Executive Officer Sally Greenberg. No living president has ever been given this award.

MEDIA ADVISORY

What:              National Consumers League’s 2023 Trumpeter Awards
When:             Wednesday, October 11, 2023

                         7 pm Presentation of Awards

Where:            Mayflower Hotel DC 1127 Connecticut Ave, NW

                         Washington, DC 20036

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, has been honoring visionaries in consumer and worker protection with its annual Trumpeter Award since 1973. Past honorees include: Senator Ted Kennedy, the award’s inaugural recipient; as well as Labor Secretaries Hilda Solis, Robert Reich, and Alexis Herman; Senators Carl Levin and Paul Wellstone; Delores Huerta of the United Farm Workers; U.S. Representative John Lewis; and other honored consumer and labor leaders.

Last year’s Trumpeter recipients were U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Dr. Francis Collins, former Director of the National Institutes of Health and former Science Advisor to the President. Mary Cheh, Ward 3 DC Councilmember, was recipient of the Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award.

This year’s Trumpeter Awards will feature a reception, dinner, and speaking appearances by NCL leadership, honorees, as well as:

  • Susan Hogan, NBC News4 Consumer Investigative Reporter
  • Lael Brainard, Director, National Economic Council
  • Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • Brian L. Schwalb, Attorney General, Washington, DC
  • Carol Ode, Representative, Vermont State Legislature
  • NCL Board President Joan Bray, Former Senator, Missouri General Assembly
  • NCL Board Member Jenny Backus, Backus Consulting
  • NCL Chief Executive Officer Sally Greenberg

To learn more, visit NCL Trumpeter Awards.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
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 nclnet.org.

National Consumers League calls on auto industry to bargain fairly with workers

September 28, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s longest-operating consumer organization, calls on the auto industry to bargain fairly with the very workers who have helped the industry become extremely profitable.

Though top-scale assembly workers earn $32.32 an hour, lower-tier workers who joined the company after 2007 earn less than $17 an hour. By comparison, many McDonald’s franchises are paying starting workers $15 per hour.

For years, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union gave up general pay raises and lost cost-of-living wage increases to help the companies control costs during tougher economic times when the industry struggled. Now, the industry is thriving. The “Big 3” auto companies—Ford, GM, and Stellantis—saw profits skyrocket 92 percent from 2013 to 2022, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Total profits of the Big 3 were $250 billion for the decade.

Today, the striking UAW union is asking for 36-percent raises in general pay over four years. Compare that to Detroit’s three automakers that have raised CEO pay by 40 percent over the past four years. Workers should get similar raises.

CEO salaries dwarf the pay of even the best-paid assembly line workers. General Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra was paid $28.98 million in 2022; Ford CEO James Farley received nearly $21 million; and Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares’ 2022 pay was $24 million.  Barra’s pay was 362 times the median employee earnings of $80,034 at GM.

“We believe that those who work on the assembly line building America’s cars deserve the same percent of pay increases that CEOs receive,” said Sally Greenberg, CEO of NCL.  “We support those who make our cars and wish them victory in their valiant battle for fair wages and benefits.”

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
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 nclnet.org.

National Consumers League supports the SAG-AFTRA strike

August 4, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

Washington, D.C. – The National Consumers League supports the SAG-AFTRA nationwide strike announced on July 14, 2023 against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. After a union wide vote authorized the strike with 97.7% voting yes, more than 150,000 movie, theater, and streaming actors have gone on strike.  AMPTP represents over 350 American television and film production companies, including Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros, ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, Netflix, Apple TV+, and Amazon.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher has been outspoken about the union’s frustration with the studios and networks.  “The Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ (AMPTP) responses to the union’s most important proposals have been insulting and disrespectful of our massive contributions to this industry,” Drescher and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland have said.

The strike started after negotiations with AMPTP failed, despite SAG-AFTRA’s very reasonable demands:

  • Residual payments from streaming services based on viewership numbers
  • Streaming services won’t release statistics on streaming numbers to the union.
  • Protections and restitution for studios using Artificial Intelligence to reproduce an actor’s likeness
  • More regulation on “Self Taped Auditions” in which actors film their own auditions instead of within a casting studio. SAG-AFTRA says this creates an unfair burden being placed on actors
  • Increased contributions to pension, health and welfare funds.
  • Increased pay across the board and a living wage for those who work in the industry.

This strike coincides with the Writers Guild of America’s strike against the AMPTP; NCL also supports that group of writers who are striking. This marks the first time in 63 years that that both of these major unions have been forced to simultaneously go on strike.

The issues facing SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America are almost identical: workers in this industry have seen their pay slowly diminished by inflation during the last several years, they face a reduction in residuals, less working time for shows, and the threat of artificial intelligence to replace actual writers and editors.

Sally Greenberg, NCL’s CEO, explained the reason for her organization’s support. “We have always been pro worker and this strike is no exception, except that the disparity in pay between industry executives and performers is more shocking than ever. Disney CEO Bob Iger’s board of directors handed him a two-year $27-million-per-year contract extension the day before the vote. Other studio executives make many millions as well, and yet they expect performers and writers in the industry – whose creativity is responsible for the success of these shows – to work for diminishing salaries and reduced benefits such that many cannot earn a living wage. The AMPTP refuses to even consider ideas like a plan for actors to participate in streaming revenue, for example.”

NCL also recognizes the strong solidarity that these striking performers have shown. For weeks, hundreds have kept the picket lines active at major AMPTP locations. Several major Hollywood SAG-AFTRA members have given generous donations in the millions to support striking performers who may not be able to afford rent or food due being shut out of their occupation by the AMPTP. Some of these individuals include Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, Dwayne Johnson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Matt Damon.

We also include below the statement of AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler in support of the performers represented by SAG-AFTRA.

AFL-CIO Statement on SAG-AFTRA

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
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 nclnet.org.

Safety in question: The alarming disparities between cannabis product health claims and research, and the magnified risks for women

By Health Policy Intern Grace Lassila

July 27, 2023

When I started my National Consumers League (NCL) internship in May 2023, I quickly dove into NCL’s health policy work. NCL is leading on several efforts to protect consumers –one area of focus that stood out to me is their work in the cannabis policy space. NCL is a founding member of Cannabis Consumer Watch (CCW), which educates consumers on cannabinoids, their effects, the risks related to the unregulated marketplace, and the ways policymakers and regulators can help protect consumers. NCL is also a part of the Collaborative for Cannabinoid Science and Safety (CCSS), which also works to educate people about cannabinoids and policy in the interest of public health.

CCW’s “test your cannabis knowledge” quiz was shocking for me. Going into the quiz, I was fairly confident about my knowledge, but as I started getting wrong answer after wrong answer, I realized I had no idea that not only are these products under-researched, but they may pose serious public health risks for consumers. Products can be sold, without having gained FDA approval, making false claims about their medicinal abilities.  And side effects are not adequately researched or revealed to consumers.

One particularly concerning aspect of the cannabis marketplace is that while CBD or Delta-8 or other cannabis products are often marketed to women, there is a concerning lack of research into the safety of these products for women. Historically, misogyny and sex discrimination have made women’s health severely under-researched and underfunded. More research on diseases, disorders, and medication is conducted on men, not women. Women are misdiagnosed far greater than men are, and experience dangerous health outcomes because of it (Greenhalgh). And without sufficient research and data on women’s health, it is incredibly difficult for legislators to write policy (Adams). Overall, for women’s health to improve, more resources need to be devoted to this issue.

Despite cannabis companies’ marketing efforts that claim their products can help with anything from menstrual cycle-related pain to morning sickness, there is little insight into the effects of cannabis or cannabis derivatives on women, pregnant people, nursing parents, and newborns. What we do know is that the risks are very real – a recent study found that THC use during pregnancy was linked to changes in fetal development and several studies have shown that CBD can be transferred to a baby via breast milk. The FDA strongly advises against THC or CBD usage while pregnant or breastfeeding. And, given the evidence currently available, I would caution any women from using these products for medical benefit.

The lack of regulation, as well as research, is very concerning. Because the FDA currently does not regulate these products, consumers have no way of knowing whether the dosage, ingredients, or claims on the label are accurate and no way of knowing whether or not they are contaminated. Though some products may acknowledge they are ‘Not Approved by FDA,’ many consumers may not see this fine print – and assume that anything they can buy at their local grocery store must be safe for consumption. While the risks of an unregulated cannabis marketplace affects all consumers, women who need medical health and relief and turn to cannabis products may be more at risk.

The good news is that in January of this year, the FDA recognized this grey area for regulation – particularly for CBD – and stated that CBD would not be regulated as a food and dietary supplement anymore, because of the unknown safety risks, and requesting that Congress act quickly to protect public health and the consumers involved.

While cannabis products are often marketed as a miracle drug, they are not. While there may be some health benefits, without comprehensive research and regulation of these products, the risks outweigh the potential good. Consumers remain responsible for making their health decisions, and women in particular should be vigilant. The FDA is heading in the right direction but more must be done to protect consumers – and women in particular. I encourage you to learn more about a safe path forward here and help NCL raise awareness of this important issue.

Sources:

Adams, Katie. “Women’s Health Is Suffering Due to Lack of Research and Funding, Experts Say.” MedCity News, 9 Dec. 2022, medcitynews.com/2022/12/womens-health-is-suffering-due-to-lack-of-research-and-funding-experts-say/#:~:text=Women’s%20health%20has%20been%20historically,healthcare%20conference%20in%20Washington%2C%20D.C.

Eversheds Sutherland. “FDA Says ‘No’ to CBD: Now What?” FDA Says “No” to CBD: Now What? – Eversheds Sutherland, us.eversheds-sutherland.com/mobile/NewsCommentary/Legal-Alerts/256713/FDA-says-no-to-CBD-Now-what#:~:text=Since%202018%2C%20the%20FDA%20has,%2Dapproved%20drug%20(Epidiolex). Accessed 6 July 2023.

Greenhalgh, Ally. “Medicine and Misogyny: The Misdiagnosis of Women.” Confluence, 5 Dec. 2022, confluence.gallatin.nyu.edu/sections/research/medicine-and-misogyny-the-misdiagnosis-of-women.

Grinspoon, Peter. “Cannabidiol (CBD): What We Know and What We Don’t.” Harvard Health, 24 Sept. 2021, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476.

“What You Should Know about Using CBD When Pregnant or Breastfeeding.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/what-you-should-know-about-using-cannabis-including-cbd-when-pregnant-or-breastfeeding#:~:text=FDA%20strongly%20advises%20against%20the,during%20pregnancy%20or%20while%20breastfeeding.&text=Cannabis%20and%20Cannabis-derived%20products,products%20appearing%20all%20the%20time. Accessed 6 July 2023.

Growing up in fields

By Child Labor Coalition Intern Jacqueline Aguilar

July 20, 2023

I grew up in a small rural area named Center, Colorado which has a population of about 2,000 people. Growing up my parents were always working in the fields, I remember my father coming home from work, and I would feel how raspy his hands were on my face. I would always ask myself, “Why are his hands so rough?” Eventually, I realized it was because of the hard work he did every day.

In middle school, buying school clothes was difficult for my parents. I started working in the lettuce fields at the age of eleven with many of my friends. We would go in at 5:00 am and get out around 2:00 pm, my parents couldn’t take me to work because they had their own job to get to, so I would have to catch a ride with my supervisor at 4:30am and get home around 3:00 pm.

Walking down those lettuce fields was draining physically, and mentally. It consisted of tired feet walking down the field with my blistered hands holding a bulky hoe and keeping an eye out on the lettuce heads making sure they grew the right way. Most days would start with the fields cold and wet with dew. I was often drenched in mud. By the time the sun rose, it was boiling outside. I would still wear layers of clothes to avoid getting sunburnt and wrap bandanas around my head and neck.

There was no cold water available for us during working hours, or even on our lunch break. We normally worked a 12-hour shift with a 30-minute lunch—typically just cold food or snacks since we didn’t have enough time to go home and make something.

I found the work exhausting, so I started working a food service job. But soon found myself back in the fields when my father got diagnosed with lung cancer. My father had migrated to the U.S. when he was 19 and had been working in the fields ever since. The cancer could have been caused from the fertilizer, dust, and pesticides that he breathed in the fields.

My mother is now disabled with torn ligaments in her shoulder, which can also be from her field work and the movements of sorting the potatoes for so many years.

My parents were unable to provide for me financially and had to move three hours from home for my dad’s cancer treatment, so I worked the potato harvest while attending high school. I juggled a lot of responsibilities during this time, and it was difficult to still be a child with so much on my plate.

I recall one morning it began to snow, we didn’t know any better, so we kept working in the heavy weather. My fingers and feet grew ice-cold as I sorted potatoes, and I wished they would tell us to go home for the day. At that moment, I knew I wanted more for myself.

I am trying to give back to my community. I dedicate two days of my week tutoring ESL students at Center Middle School, where I previously attended. I want to help Spanish-speaking students continue school without the language barrier.

I have also been connected to the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Program since youth. For the past three years, I have been the Otero Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Recruiter in the San Luis Valley in Colorado which allows me to promote a good program that benefits farmworker children and parents. I am an active member of the College Assistance Migrant Program at Adams State University where I’ve learned the value of an educational community and the power of coming together to work toward a common goal.

I am now a rising junior at Adams State University working toward a major in sociology with an emphasis in social work and a minor in Spanish. I hope to receive my Master’s degree at Colorado State University-Pueblo to become a medical social worker. I want to stay close to my community to help families that face barriers to medical services—just as mine did when my father had cancer.

NCL urges DC Council to reject anti-consumer and anti-worker bill

June 9, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – In preparation for a June 8 hearing, NCL submitted a letter to the DC Council urging that the council reject Bill 25-0280, the “Workers and Restaurants are Priorities Act of 2023.” NCL believes this bill is both anti-consumer and anti-worker and it sets a dangerous precedent for carving out an exemption to our DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) for the sole protection of restaurants.

The letter can be found here.

The National Consumers League announces support for the pro labor “PRO Act”

March 2, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer and labor advocacy group, announced support today for legislation known as the Pro Act. The bill is comprehensive labor legislation to protect workers’ right to stand together and bargain for fairer wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces.

The Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, was recently re-introduced in Congress, will address those very critical issues.

“We applaud Senator Murray for leading the charge on passage of the PRO Act. Labor laws badly need  strengthening in the US. The PRO Act will protect workers trying to organize a union, and strengthen their ability to earn higher wages, quality health care, gain safe working conditions and a more secure retirement. It’s long past time that we pass the PRO Act, which will help build a stronger and fairer economy—and ensure workers get their fair share of the wealth they help create,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s CEO.

Congressional supporters and union leaders announced the introduction of the PRO Act at a press conference on February 28, 2023. Members of Congress supporting the legislation include Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

The PRO Act would protect the right to organize and collectively bargain by:

  • Bolstering remedies and punishing violations of workers’ rights through authorizing meaningful penalties for employers that violate workers’ rights, strengthening support for workers who suffer retaliation for exercising their rights, and authorizing a private right of action for violation of workers’ rights.
  • Strengthening workers’ right to join together and negotiate for better working conditions by enhancing workers’ right to support secondary boycotts, ensuring unions can collect “fair share” fees, modernizing the union election process, and facilitating initial collective bargaining agreements.
  • Restoring fairness to an economy rigged against workers by closing loopholes that allow employers to misclassify their employees as supervisors and independent contractors and increasing transparency in labor-management relations.

Senator Murray—former Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee—first introduced the PRO Act in the 116th Congress and held a hearing urging action to protect workers’ right to organize. Senators also held a roundtable in Seattle with U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) to discuss the importance of protecting workers’ right to form a union and pass the PRO Act. In the spending bill passed into law last December, Congress secured a long overdue $25 million increase in funding for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to help ensure the agency can protect the rights of workers everywhere.

For the bill text of the PRO Act, click here.

For a fact sheet on the PRO Act, click here.

For a section-by-section summary of the PRO Act, click here.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
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 nclnet.org.

National Consumers League applauds nomination of Julie Su for Secretary of the Department of Labor

March 1, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Consumers League welcomes President Biden’s announcement that he intends to nominate Julie Su to serve as Secretary of the Department of Labor. Su is an experienced labor expert who can continue the Administration’s commitment to a stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive economy for all Americans. She has been serving as Deputy Secretary of Labor since July 2021. As Deputy Secretary, Su has worked with Secretary Walsh to advance President Biden’s vision of a strong, resilient, inclusive economy with worker well-being at its center.

Under Walsh and Su’s leadership, the Department of Labor has witnessed an increase of more than 12 million jobs and the unemployment rate has inched down to 3.4 percent, the lowest rate since May of 1969.

Su previously led California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency — the nation’s largest state Department of Labor – where she launched the “Wage Theft is a Crime” campaign with the support of both labor and management. During her tenure as Labor Commissioner, she cracked down on wage theft, fought to protect trafficked workers, increased the minimum wage, helped to create good-paying, high-quality jobs, and established and enforced workplace safety standards.

“We are excited by President Biden’s nomination of Julie Su as Labor Secretary and urge a quick confirmation,” said Reid Maki, Director of Child Labor Advocacy for the National Consumers League. “Her record of cracking down on illegal labor trafficking and her long career as a civil rights attorney gives her a unique understanding of the plight of the most vulnerable workers.”

“Given heightened attention to the scourge of hazardous child labor, as highlighted by a recent New York Times expose, we hope Su will make this issue a top priority,” added Maki. NCL chairs the Child Labor Coalition which has long raised concerns about the safety and health of young workers in meat processing plants and in agriculture. “Unaccompanied minors are working in dangerous conditions for long hours—in the fields and in meat processing plants and other factories. Many live in the US alone without family looking after their welfare, and thus they are easily exploited. They are  our most vulnerable workers,” observed Maki. “We hope that if Su is confirmed, she will make underage teens illegal employment a top priority; we also will press DOL and Su to address badly needed safety protections for children who work in agriculture, an issue before Congress that is urgently in need of a solution.”

NCL was founded by progressive era leaders at the turn of the 20th century with the goal of ending child labor in the United States and enacting minimum wage and maximum hours laws.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
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 nclnet.org.

The Child Labor Coalition expresses alarm over the results of DOL’s investigation into child labor at meatpacking plants in the U.S. and calls for current protections to be enhanced, not weakened

February 21, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org(202) 823-8442

Washington, D.C. – The Child Labor Coalition, consisting of 39 organizational members who work to end exploitative child labor domestically and internationally, calls attention to today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that its just-completed investigation found 102 children working in cleaning crews in 13 meatpacking plants in eight states. DOL levied a fine of $1.5 million in civil money penalties against Packer Sanitation Services, Inc. (PSSI).

The children often worked the graveyard shift and used caustic chemical agents while they cleaned meat processing equipment including backsaws, brisket saws and head splitters. DOL learned that three minors were injured while working for PSSI.

Sally Greenberg, chair of the Child Labor Coalition, publicly called for meatpacking plants to be investigated for underage worker in 2008 during a congressional hearing on child labor.

“While we applaud this seemingly robust investigation by U.S. DOL, we wonder why the meatpacking firms who benefited from illegal child labor are not being held liable,” said Reid Maki, who is the Child Labor Coalitions coordinator and the Director of Child labor Advocacy for U.S. DOL. “Firms like JBS Foods, Tyson Food, Cargill, Turkey Valley Farms and others, hired PSSI to do the cleaning but company employees witness underage workers performing hazardous work with dangerous chemicals and did nothing to stop it. Why aren’t these companies being punished?” he asked.

Maki noted that the fine amount is the legal maximum that DOL could assess in the case but $1.5 million is roughly one day’s revenue for a company like PSSI that has over $450 million in annual revenue. “We would really love to see maximum and minimum child labor fines increased, and we had discussions with Senator Schatz’s office about it this very week,” he noted.

Maki noted that the investigation results are well-timed because the state of Iowa is considering a reprehensible child labor bill that would allow children to work expanded hours and in hazardous work areas.

“Iowa bill S.F. 167 not only extends hours for teen work, it permits minors to work in highly hazardous areas like meatpacking loading docks and assembly areas,” said Maki. “It’s a cynical, dangerous bill that builds in liability waivers for employers against teen worker injuries that the legislative authors know will happen. We strongly oppose this bill.”

Other states, including Ohio and Minnesota, are considering bills to weaken hard-won child protections.

Maki also noted giant loopholes in U.S. child labor law that expose child workers on farms to great risks. “Our weak child labor laws allow kids who are only 12 to work unlimited hours on farms when school is not in session. We’ve met many 12-year-olds who work 70–80-hours a week in the summer and in stifling heat, performing back-breaking labor,” explained Maki. “A teen worker has to be 18 to perform hazardous work in the U.S. but in agriculture they only need to be 16,” he added.

“The presence of young children in farm work, makes it critical that U.S.DOL begin enhancing hazardous work rules for child workers in agriculture,” said Maki. “DOL succumbed to political pressure when it scuttled needed protections over a decade ago and since then has refused to honor its responsibility to protect kids from known work dangers.”

We have also been waiting for DOL to protect child tobacco workers who regularly become ill from nicotine absorption and poisoning, noted Maki. “You must be 21 to buy cigarettes in the U.S., why does U.S. law allow tobacco growers to hire 12-year-olds to harvest this toxic crop? DOL needs to do more to protect these vulnerable workers.”

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
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 nclnet.org.