Consumers Union

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Consumers Union
Consumers Union wordmark.svg
Founded1936; 83 years ago (1936)
FounderArthur Kallet
Colston Warne
TypeNonprofit organization
Key people
Marta Tellado, President[1]
$248 million (2009)[2]

Consumers Union (CU) is a United States-based non-profit organization focusing on product testing, investigative journalism, and consumer advocacy.[3] Consumers Union publishes a magazine and a website, both called Consumer Reports.[3] Marta L. Tellado is the current CEO of Consumer Reports. She joined the organization in 2014, with the goal of expanding its engagement and advocacy efforts.[4]

Founded in 1936, CU was created to serve as a source of information that consumers could use to help assess the safety and performance of products.[5] Since that time, CU has continued its testing and analysis of products and services, and attempted to advocate for the consumer in legislative and rule-making areas.[6] Among the reforms in which CU played a role were the advent of seat belt laws,[7] the exposure of the dangers of cigarettes,[8] and more recently, the enhancement of consumer finance protection and the increase of consumer access to quality health care.[9]

The organization has also expanded its reach to a suite of digital platforms.[10]

The organization’s headquarters, including its 50 testing labs, are located in Yonkers, New York, while its automotive testing track is in East Haddam, Connecticut.[11] CU is funded by subscriptions to its magazine and website, as well as through independent grants and donations.[12]


Advertisement for the first issue of Consumer Reports from the Communist Party's arts and contemporary politics magazine, The New Masses.

Consumers Union's predecessor, Consumers' Research, was founded in 1926.[13] In 1936, Consumers Union was founded[14] by Arthur Kallet, Colston Warne, and others who felt that the established Consumers' Research organization was not aggressive enough. Kallet, an engineer and director of Consumers' Research, had a falling out with F.J. Schlink and started his own organization with Amherst College economics professor Colston Warne. In part due to actions of Consumers' Research, the House Un-American Activities Committee placed Consumers Union on a list of subversive organizations, only to remove it in 1954.

Prominent consumer advocate Ralph Nader was on the board of directors, but left in 1975 due to a "division of philosophy" with new Executive Director Rhoda Karpatkin.[15] Nader wanted Consumers Union to focus on policy and product advocacy, while Karpatkin focused on product testing.[16] Karpatkin was appointed Executive Director in 1974 and retired as President in the early 2000s.[16][17]

Consumers Union has helped start several consumer groups and publications, in 1960 helping create global consumer group Consumers International and in 1974 providing financial assistance to Consumers' Checkbook which is considered akin to Consumer Reports for local services in the seven metropolitan areas they serve.

At the start of 2009, Consumers Union acquired The Consumerist blog from Gawker Media[18] for approximately $600,000.

In 2012 the publishing organization began doing business as "Consumer Reports", which is also the name of the magazine published by the organization.[19] The reason for the name change was that the name of "Consumer Reports" was more familiar to the public than the name "Consumers Union".[19] The name "Consumers Union" became reserved for the subsection of the organization which participates in political advocacy.[19] Consumers Union spent $200,000 on lobbying in 2015.[20]

The Consumerist was subsequently closed in December 2017, when its content was folded into the Consumer Reports website.[21]

Advocacy and campaigns[edit]

Consumers Want to Know, a 1960 documentary on Consumers Union

Consumers Union has hundreds of thousands of online advocates who take action and write letters to policymakers about the issues its advocates take on. This group continues to grow as Consumer Reports expands its reach, with 6 million paid members who have access to online tools like a car recall tracker and personalized content. An additional base of online members join for free and received guidance on a range of products (i.e. gas grills, washing machines) at no charge. CU has also launched several advocacy websites, including, which helps consumers with telecommunications policy matters. In March 2005, CU campaign released "Drugs I Need", an animated short with a song from the Austin Lounge Lizards, that was featured by The New York Times, JibJab, BoingBoing, and hundreds of blogs. On Earth Day 2005, CU launched, a web-based initiative meant to "inform, engage, and empower consumers about environmentally friendly products and practices."

Consumers Union, the advocacy and policy arm of Consumer Reports Magazine, is a sponsor of the Safe Patient Project, with the goal to aid consumers in finding the best quality of health care by promoting the public disclosure of hospital-acquired infection rates and medical errors. The US Centers for Disease Control states that about 2 million patients annually (about 1 in 20) will acquire an infection while being treated in a hospital for an unrelated health care problem, resulting in 99,000 deaths and as much as $45 billion in excess hospital costs.[1]

The campaign has worked in every state calling for legislation requiring hospitals to disclose infection rates to the public. A list of state infection reports can be found here. The Safe Patient Project also works on medical devices, prescription drugs, and physician accountability. offers an "accessible, reliable, and practical source of information on buying 'greener' products that have minimal environmental impact and meet personal needs." The site contains many articles about different products, rating them on how "green" they are. It also focuses on electronics and appliance recycling and reuse, as well as conservation and global warming prevention.

Funding for Consumers Union has recently been provided by USPIRG Education Fund, the Kentucky Equal Justice Center and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network among other advocacy organizations.[22]

In recent years, the organization has been vocal on key issues, including championing consumer choice and industry competition in the debate against the Sprint T-Mobile merger, [23] advocating for consumer preference to leave net neutrality protections in place,[24] [25]exposing how data is used to engage in racial discrimination when determining consumer pricing offers[26], and advocating for stronger privacy laws in the wake of Cambridge Analytica.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haughney, Christine (14 July 2014). "Ford Foundation Executive to Lead Consumer Reports -". The New York Times. New York: NYTC. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  2. ^ Bounds, Gwendolyn (May 5, 2010). "Meet the Sticklers". The Wall Street Journal. pp. D1–D2. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Franklin 2015, p. 141.
  4. ^ Haughney, Christine (14 July 2014). "Ford Foundation Executive to Lead Consumer Reports". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  5. ^ Franklin 2015, p. 141-2.
  6. ^ Franklin 2015, p. 142-3.
  7. ^ Silber, Norman Isaac (1983). "The risk of smoking: verifying the tradition of temperance". Test and protest - the influence of Consumers Union. New York: Holmes & Meier. pp. 39–74. ISBN 0841907498.
  8. ^ Silber, Norman Isaac (1983). "Accidents and injuries:testing the automobile industry". Test and protest - the influence of Consumers Union. New York: Holmes & Meier. pp. 75–102. ISBN 0841907498.
  9. ^ Franklin 2015, p. 147.
  10. ^ Franklin 2015, p. 144-147.
  11. ^ Franklin 2015, p. 142.
  12. ^ Franklin 2015, p. 145.
  13. ^ Carr, David (15 Sep 2003). "MediaTalk; 2 Are Out in Shake-Up at Consumer Reports". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  14. ^ "CONSUMER GROUP FORMED.; New Organization Plans to Give Data on Goods and Services". The New York Times. 6 Feb 1936. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  15. ^ "Notes on People; Nader Quits Consumers Union". The New York Times. 23 Aug 1975. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  16. ^ a b Finn, Robin (5 Oct 2000). "PUBLIC LIVES; Still Top Dog, Consumers' Pit Bull to Retire". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  17. ^ Gold, Gerald (13 Jan 1974). "Consumers Union Picks Lawyer To Be Its First Woman Director; In Involvement". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  18. ^ "Consumers Union Buys Consumerist". Consumerist. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  19. ^ a b c Guest, Jim (2012). "From Our President - Changes for 2012 - Consumer Reports". Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  20. ^ "Lobbying Spending Database - Consumers Union of the US, 2015 | OpenSecrets". Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  21. ^ " Shutting Down". Retrieved 2018-05-17.
  22. ^ "Form 990" (PDF).
  23. ^ "Hang up on Sprint and T-Mobile: Consumer Reports". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2018-05-17.
  24. ^ "What is net neutrality? Trump-era regulations could ruin the internet for you". HelloGiggles. Retrieved 2018-05-17.
  25. ^ Rich, Jessica (2017-12-12). "Opinion | The false promise behind the FCC's net neutrality repeal plan". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-05-17.
  26. ^ a b "The Facebook Debacle Makes it Clear: The US Needs Stronger Privacy Laws". WIRED. Retrieved 2018-05-17.

External links[edit]