Advocates call on Biden Administration to act on airline passenger protection mandates

May 28, 2024

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

WASHINGTON, DC – With the summer travel season under way, consumer and passenger rights advocates today called on the Biden Administration to act expeditiously on consumer protection rulemakings and other actions mandated by the recently enacted Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization language. In a letter to President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg, the groups urged the Administration to prioritize the following actions:

  • Nominating a pro-passenger Assistant Secretary of Aviation Consumer Protection;
  • Ensuring that the FAA establishes minimum seat size standards for air carriers;
  • Improving reporting of the causes of flight delays to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT);
  • Ensuring that customer service channels are staffed by humans; and
  • Completing an independent non-partisan study of airline industry consolidation.

“Beginning the hard work of making airline travel less frustrating for passengers should not wait for the next election,” said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud at the National Consumers League (NCL), which organized the letter. “Congress gave the Administration an aggressive timeline for implementing the new law, and we do not want these important new protections to be slow walked.”

“Both parties and both Houses of Congress put forth key protections for consumer advocacy, competition, and safety,” said William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation & Travel at American Economic Liberties Project. “In the past we’ve seen legislation that was not fully acted upon, and we urge the Biden Administration to swiftly and decisively implement these new laws.”

“The message from Congress is clear: the Administration must promptly take concrete steps to improve air travel for Americans,” said Erin Witte, Director of Consumer Protection for Consumer Federation of America. “Rather than waiting or delaying, the Administration should push forward and prioritize the implementation of the Reauthorization Act.”

“Congress has done its job and now it’s time for the Administration to do theirs,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog Director at U.S. PIRG. “As we saw during COVID, our economy and our quality of life relies a lot on safe, reliable air travel. We’re eager to see these changes enacted quickly in hopes that air travel will become pleasant again.”

“Since 2007, FlyersRights as the largest airline passenger organization has been advocating for many of the provisions in this legislation,” said Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights.org. “But while Congress previously required the FAA to enact numerous measures such as minimum seat size in 2018, FAA and DOT have often failed to act on Congressional mandates. This time must be different!”

The letter was signed by nine consumer and passenger advocacy organizations, including the American Economic Liberties Project, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, FlyersRights.org, National Consumers League, Public Citizen, Travelers United, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

To read the full letter, 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.

NCL applauds Supreme Court for siding with consumer protection in upholding CFPB’s constitutionality

May 16, 2024

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

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) is pleased to celebrate the victory for consumers in today’s Supreme Court decision. In upholding the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) funding structure, the Court has rejected extremist legal theories and allowed the agency to continue its important work to maintain a fair financial marketplace and promote economic and racial justice.

“The Supreme Court delivered a blow to the payday lending industry who challenged the CFPB’s funding for their own commercial gain. This is good news for consumers across the country,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s CEO. “The Court’s ruling clears a cloud over agency’s work and makes clear that financial regulators will not be gutted on behalf of special interests.”

The Bureau’s funding structure was key to its independence from short-term political agendas, similar to the Federal Reserve Board and other key regulators. Without the CFPB, consumers would be vulnerable to a slew of junk fees, predatory collection practices, and unfair application processes for some of their biggest financial decisions.

Further reading:

  • NCL statement on Fifth Circuit decision to invalidate CFPB’s independence
  • NCL applauds the CFPB’s effort to prohibit junk fees in financial services
  • NCL supports CFPB’s proposal to remove medical debt from credit reports
  • NCL applauds decisive action by CFPB against fraudulent payments processor
  • NCL supports confirmation of Rohit Chopra as CFPB director
  • Leading consumer groups call on FTC and CFPB to update study on accuracy of consumer data

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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.

NCL on Upcoming Congressional Hearings with UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty

April 30, 2024

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

Washington, DC – Tomorrow, the Senate Finance Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee will hear from UnitedHealth Group CEO on the insurance company’s cyberattack that put millions of medical records and patient privacy at risk.

The cyberattack is, of course, cause for concern, but there are also several other ways major insurance companies like UnitedHealth Group are hurting consumers. These companies have taken over the prescription drug marketplace – they are integrated with the pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) who gatekeep our prescriptions, limiting access and increasing out-of-pocket costs.

Here are the top questions American consumers deserve answers to:

  • How will your company work to not only protect patient data going forward, but also protect patient choice and power in their healthcare decision-making?
  • Can you explain the relationships and makeup of UHG, Optum Rx, and Optum Health? How does this vertical integration give consumers a fair choice when it comes to their health when there is a clear incentive to keep patients – and thus profit – in the UHG family?
  • UnitedHealth Group’s PBM Optum Rx claims to benefit consumers by negotiating rebates with drug manufacturers – why, then, aren’t consumers experiencing lower costs at the pharmacy counter?
  • How much does Optum Rx collect each year in rebates from drug manufacturers? How much profit does the UHG corporation rake in from prescription drug purchases?
  • Is UHG aware of the significant health and financial challenges that prior authorization requirements impose on consumers and their families?

The insurance industry is riddled with poor incentives that ultimately hurt consumers. Lawmakers have an opportunity this week to shine a light on these problems. We need bipartisan reforms to give consumers more power when it comes to their prescriptions, and ultimately, their health.

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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.

Consumer groups welcome protections in FAA reauthorization agreement, urge continued improvements

April 29, 2024

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

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. House and Senate negotiators released their bipartisan and bicameral compromise bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As consumer and public interest advocates, we are grateful to members of Congress who are utilizing this opportunity to implement meaningful safeguards to the flying experience. However, as the last few years have demonstrated, there is a need for even more protections to address the extreme hardships that passengers have been forced to endure. Given the limited opportunity to enact reforms in the five-year cycle of the FAA reauthorization, we strongly urge Congress to enact amendments to further strengthen the bill before its final passage. 

“Consumers are notching significant wins in this package, but there is still work to be done to fix a broken airline industry,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Tripling civil penalties, codifying DOT’s authority to issue important consumer protection rules, prohibiting family seating fees, and creating an Assistant Secretary position charged with protecting airline passengers will all have meaningful impacts on the flying experience. There is more that can be done as this bill heads to the floor, including requiring airlines to maintain 24/7 customer service telephone lines, protecting against the devaluation of frequent flier benefits, and codifying DOT’s ability to protect consumers from unrealistic airline scheduling practices. We look forward to working with leaders in Congress on this important issues.”

“Considering this bill was expected eight-plus months ago, you might have thought House and Senate negotiators would have taken the extra time to include all of the meaningful protections airline passengers deserve,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog Director with U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “We’re particularly concerned with the absence of some provisions that would make air travel less burdensome, such as fee transparency.”

“Airline passengers will achieve some real gains in this bill and we look forward to seeing continued progress to strengthening the bill to include compensation for consumers,” said Ruth Susswein, Consumer Action’s Director of Consumer Protection.

“This legislative package includes some important steps forward for air travel consumers and ensures that some existing protections are not weakened,” said Erin Witte, director of consumer protection for Consumer Federation of America. “As this bill moves toward passage, we urge Congress to take full advantage of the opportunity to make it as strong as possible.”

Importantly, there are several boons for consumers in this version of the reauthorization, including:

  • Establishing a permanent office of consumer protection at the Department of Transportation, headed by a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary;
  • Requiring airline vouchers to be valid for at least five years;
  • Tripling the amount DOT can fine airlines for law violations;
  • Requiring air carriers to allow families to sit together with no extra charge;
  • Commissioning a Government Accountability Office study on competition and consolidation within the industry.

As it heads to the Senate floor, passenger advocates are urging senators to protect those provisions while supporting additional amendments that were included in previous versions of the House and Senate reauthorization bills, including: 

  • Requiring airlines to provide cash refunds for cancellations and significant delays automatically, without the need for consumers to navigate often-complicated refund processes; 
  • Eliminate a loophole that would allow FAA to avoid creating safe and humane seat size dimensions; 
  • Provide DOT with clear authority to regulate unrealistic and deceptive flight schedules; 
  • Codifying DOT’s authority to mandate ancillary fee transparency; 
  • Directing FAA to study the impact of shrinking seats sizes on the safety of airplane evacuations and passengers with disabilities.

Additional reading:

  • Full list of consumer and public interest advocates’ priorities for the FAA reauthorization
  • Consumer groups call for moratorium on smaller airplane seats pending FAA safety review

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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.

Consumer advocates support federal review of air industry’s data collection practices

April 29, 2024

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

Washington, DC – Today, a coalition of seven consumer and public interest advocacy organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation supporting the agency’s review of airline and ticket agents’ data collection practices.

The coalition outlined several areas concerning passenger privacy that DOT should examine, including:

  • How airlines collect consumer data from their websites and mobile apps, including sensitive data like precise location information and web browsing activity
  • How airlines collect and use consumer data in relation to their mileage and rewards programs
  • How airlines collect and use consumer data in relation to the New Distribution Capability system

Additionally, the coalition urged DOT to explore permanent mechanisms for consumers to have better control over their own data, such as requiring aviation companies to follow data minimization principles, implementing transparency requirements around industry actors’ data practices, and creating tools for consumers to exclude themselves from those practices.

Airlines currently enjoy unique privileges that almost no other industry in the nation has. The U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and state governments are unable to hold air carriers accountable for violations of consumer protection and civil rights laws—only DOT has this authority.

The signatories to the letter are the American Economic Liberties Project, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Ed Perkins on Travel, FlyersRights, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the National Consumers League. The full letter can be found 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.

NCL urges regulators to investigate auto makers’ data collection practices

March 27, 2024

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

Washington, DC – Today, the National Consumers League sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission urging oversight of vehicle manufacturers’ collection of consumer data. Modern cars can collect a range of information on drivers, including the locations they visit, their exact weight, and their texts and call records. Consumers are often unaware of this data collection and are even more surprised when insurance companies utilize this surveillance to increase drivers’ premiums. As digitally connected vehicles become more commonplace, the risks they pose to consumer privacy will only become greater—absent mandatory safeguards.

The full letter can be found 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.

NCL applauds Biden Administration actions to minimize unfair charges, protect producers from retaliation

March 5, 2024

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

Washington, DC – Today, the White House Competition Council announced new actions to lower costs for consumers and promote market health. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) finalized a rule to save consumers $10 billion a year by capping credit card late fees to an average of $8. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is initiating a ban on bulk billing, a practice where landlords or service providers charge all tenants in a building for a particular service—even for residents who do not choose that service. Lastly, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is implementing protections for farmers and ranchers from retaliatory practices used by the industry’s dominant firms.

The following statement is attributable to NCL Chief Executive Officer Sally Greenberg:

“Under President Biden’s leadership, consumer protection agencies are doing critical work to guard the marketplace against industry misconduct. As more industry sectors have become increasingly consolidated, today’s actions are necessary to ensure that consumers aren’t ripped off and to protect producers from illegal retaliation and discrimination. When businesses concentrate market power and employ unfair practices to maintain that dominance, new legal safeguards and structural reform become necessary to protect the public from further harm. Today’s announcements are an important piece of this effort to maintain healthy marketplaces that benefit consumers and workers.”

The National Consumers League has worked to protect both consumers and workers from consolidated corporate power since 1899. From advocating against banking fees that disproportionately affect marginalized communities to fighting for transparency in telecom billing, NCL continues to provide a voice for the public interest.

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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.

A coalition of consumer, health groups – including NCL – call for nutrition, ingredient, and allergen labeling on alcoholic beverages

February 27, 2024

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

Washington, DC – A coalition of consumer and health groups is urging Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to ensure that the agency responsible for regulating most alcoholic beverages in the U.S. – the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) – keeps its commitment to require standardized alcohol labeling on all beer, wine, and distilled spirits products by initiating three promised rulemakings on nutrition, ingredients, and allergen labeling on an accelerated basis.

The appeal comes in the form of a February 27 letter from five leading public interest groups as TTB begins a series of “listening sessions” on labeling and advertising of alcoholic beverages on February 28. Raising concerns that the listening sessions are no more than a delay tactic to maintain the status quo and “slow walk deliberations for months,” the organizations – the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), and National Consumers League (NCL) – called for TTB to publish the rulemakings by June 2024.

The Treasury Department promised that TTB would issue mandatory alcohol labeling rules in a November 17, 2022 letter in response to a lawsuit filed by CSPI, NCL, and CFA. The Department stated its intention to publish the three rulemakings before the end of 2023.

“We write … to express our dismay and serious concern that TTB has backtracked from its written undertaking of the November 17, 2022 agreement,” the groups wrote to Secretary Yellen. “TTB has, in effect, enabled recalcitrant companies by delaying indefinitely rulemakings on mandatory alcohol labeling while opting for a voluntary rule under which labeling “Serving Facts” or “Alcohol Facts” and ingredients are optional.”

Focusing on the health consequences of delaying action on alcohol labeling, the letter from advocates to Secretary Yellen describes how better alcohol labeling will benefit the 84 percent of U.S. adults who drink alcoholic beverages – 216 million people – and who currently do not have the facts about the alcohol they are consuming to protect their health and safety. Overconsumption of alcohol is a costly public health problem that has become much worse in recent years, as alcohol-related deaths have risen substantially. Among the key concerns, alcohol is involved in about 30 percent of all traffic crash fatalities in the U.S, is a source of empty calories that contributes to obesity, can impact blood sugar control in people with diabetes, and labeling can be a life-or-death matter for people with food allergies. Additionally, excessive drinking increases the risk of liver disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, alcohol use disorders, certain cancers and severe injuries.

“The consensus among public health and nutrition experts and consumers themselves, in favor of mandatory and complete alcohol labeling is overwhelming,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy at the Consumer Federation of America. “By reneging on its promise to initiate rulemakings, TTB continues to deny Americans the same helpful and easily accessible labeling information now required for conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs.”

The letter to Secretary Yellen also stresses that alcohol manufacturers have the capability to put standardized Serving Facts labels on their products, when required. This is the case for products such as some hard ciders, hard seltzers, and wine coolers that are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which requires such products to have the same Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients statements on nonalcoholic beverages, from soft drinks to juices.

“To date, TTB has taken the position that requiring standardized nutrient content labeling on alcoholic beverages is too costly and burdensome for beverage alcohol manufacturers,” said Sally Greenberg, CEO of the National Consumers League. “However, the inconvenient truth for the industry is that some of the very same companies whose products do not include a Serving Facts statement if they are regulated by TTB already put complete alcohol labeling on their hard ciders, hard seltzers, wine coolers, and other FDA regulated wines and beers.”

Highlighting that the time has come for mandatory alcohol labeling, the letter makes clear that the agency’s current voluntary labeling rules are not working. Although the rule gives companies the option of putting “Serving Facts” or “Alcohol Facts” and ingredients information on their products, new research from the Center for Science in the Public Interest finds that most manufacturers have opted out of TTB’s voluntary program. Using TTB’s COLA database to examine the labels for 132 of the nation’s top beer and wine brands, CSPI’s study found that only 11 labels of the 65 beer brands examined (17%) and none of the 67 wine brands included ingredients lists while 18 beers (28%) and no wines used the voluntary “Serving Facts” label, and one additional beer brand carried the voluntary “Alcohol Facts” label. CSPI’s review also showed that even when serving information is included on beer and wine labels, there is no standard format for where and how the disclosures appear, making it hard for consumers to find information easily and compare different brands.

“We have the data that demonstrate that Treasury’s voluntary rule has failed to adequately improve transparency in alcohol labeling,” said Dr. Peter G. Lurie, President of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Ensuring that the agency ends this ineffective voluntary regime by issuing mandatory labeling rules necessitates national leadership. This is why we are appealing directly to Secretary Yellen to intercede personally to require the agency to commit to publish all three proposed rules by June 2024.”

The 2022 letter whereby TTB undertook to publish standardized alcohol content, calorie, and allergen labeling by the end of 2023 resulted from a lawsuit filed by Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumers League on October 3, 2022. The suit charged TTB with failing to act on a citizen petitionsubmitted to the Treasury Department in 2003 to mandate alcohol labeling. CSPI, CFA, and NCL filed the petition along with a coalition of 66 other organizations and eight individuals, including four deans of schools of public health.

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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.

NCL urges Congress to improve air travel as FAA reauthorization progresses

February 15, 2024

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

Washington, DC – Last week, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee advanced the five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The legislation does contain some victories for consumers, but it does not contain the deep reforms of an uncompetitive industry that are sorely needed.

“Passengers are crying out to Congress to implement real reforms that make flying less miserable,” said NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud John Breyault. “The Senate Commerce Committee could have used its twice-a-decade opportunity to swing for the fences on behalf of the flying public. Unfortunately, they settled for a bunt single.”

NCL, in coalition with other consumer and passenger rights organizations, has called for stronger safeguards to be included in the FAA reauthorization bill for years. Last February, NCL and eight other advocacy groups sent a letter to House and Senate Commerce Committee leaders urging support for a range of critical reforms to the airline industry. Key among those demands was a change to allow state attorneys general to enforce consumer protection laws against airlines, something that federal law currently prohibits them from doing. Thirty-seven bipartisan state attorneys general have also supported this reform, which both the House of Representatives and the Senate have so far ignored in their bills.

“Congress is running out of time to get this right,” said Breyault. “We strongly urge members of the Senate to make protecting the flying public a bigger priority as this bill moves to a floor vote.”

Several of the passenger rights coalition’s other priorities were included in the bill reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee. These reforms include a requirement that children be seated with their family and caregivers without additional fees, a requirement that air travel vouchers not expire before five years, standards for refunds in the event of a delay or cancellation, minimum customer service call center requirements, and creating an assistant Secretary of Aviation Consumer Protection.

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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.

NCL testifies before Senate, urges stronger protections against scams

February 1, 2024

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

Washington, DC – Highlighting the ongoing epidemic of fraud across the country, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud John Breyault testified today before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Breyault advocated for stronger consumer protections alongside Carla Sanchez-Adams, a senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.

“When NCL last testified before this committee in 2021, we warned that peer-to-peer payment platforms such as Zelle, Venmo, Cash App, and PayPal had become ‘payment methods of choice for scammers.’ Unfortunately, the problem has only worsened since then,” Breyault told the committee. “No amount of consumer education, better disclosure, or ‘friction’ put into payment flows will solve this problem alone. The payment platforms where fraud occurs must have a bigger financial incentive to stop scams before they happen.”

The Federal Trade Commission, the primary federal agency for reporting fraud, continues to receive record numbers of complaints, with 5.4 million reports in 2022. Since the last time Vice President Breyault appeared before the Senate Banking Committee, median losses to scams nearly doubled, from $374 per incident to $650. The emergence of new and unregulated technologies, such as peer-to-peer payment apps and cryptocurrencies, has also facilitated staggering losses. Crypto-linked fraud losses exceeded $1 billion annually in 2022 and 2023.

“We are not winning the fight against fraud,” said Breyault. “We need Congress to Act.”

Breyault urged the Banking Committee to swiftly pass bills like the Protecting Consumers From Payment Scams Act and Senator Elizabeth Warrens (D-MA) Digital Asset Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2023 to crack down on scams targeting peer-to-peer payment apps and cryptocurrencies, respectively.

This was Breyault’s fourth time speaking before Congress on policy solutions to address the incessant scams targeting Americans daily. Breyault’s full written testimony can be found 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.