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|Marta Tellado, President|
|$248 million (2009)|
Consumers Union (CU) is a United States-based non-profit organization focusing on product testing, investigative journalism, and consumer advocacy in an attempt to help consumers to make informed decisions in the marketplace and to encourage market actors to place the needs of consumers first. Consumers Union publishes a magazine and a website, both called Consumer Reports. As of January 2016, its CEO is Marta Tellado, who has served in the position since 2014.
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 at the dawn of the era of mass media advertising. 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 arenas. Among the reforms in which CU played a role were the advent of seat belt laws, the exposure of the dangers of cigarettes, and more recently, the enhancement of consumer finance protection and the increase of consumer access to quality health care.
The organization has expanded its reach to a suite of digital platforms.
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. CU is funded by subscriptions to its magazine and website, as well as through independent grants and donations.
Consumers Union's predecessor, Consumers' Research, was founded in 1926. In 1936, Consumers Union was founded 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. Nader wanted Consumers Union to focus on policy and product advocacy, while Karpatkin focused on product testing. Karpatkin was appointed Executive Director in 1974 and retired as President in the early 2000s.
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.
In 2012 the publishing organization began doing business as "Consumer Reports", which is also the name of the magazine published by the organization. The reason for the name change was that the name of "Consumer Reports" was more familiar to the public than the name "Consumers Union". The name "Consumers Union" became reserved for the subsection of the organization which participates in political advocacy. Consumers Union spent $200,000 on lobbying in 2015.
Advocacy and campaigns
Consumers Union has hundreds of thousands of e-advocates who take action and write letters to policymakers about the issues its advocates take on. CU has also launched several advocacy websites, including HearUsNow.org, which helps consumers with telecommunications policy matters. In March 2005, CU campaign PrescriptionforChange.org 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 GreenerChoices.org, 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.
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.
GreenerChoices.org 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.
- Consumers International
- Australian Consumers' Association
- Consumers' Institute of New Zealand
- UFC Que Choisir, France's most important consumers' group.
- Haughney, Christine (14 July 2014). "Ford Foundation Executive to Lead Consumer Reports - NYTimes.com". The New York Times. New York: NYTC. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
- Bounds, Gwendolyn (May 5, 2010). "Meet the Sticklers". The Wall Street Journal. pp. D1–D2. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
- Franklin 2015, p. 141.
- Haughney, Christine (14 July 2014). "Ford Foundation Executive to Lead Consumer Reports". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
- Franklin 2015, p. 141-2.
- Franklin 2015, p. 142-3.
- 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.
- 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.
- Franklin 2015, p. 147.
- Franklin 2015, p. 144-147.
- Franklin 2015, p. 142.
- Franklin 2015, p. 145.
- 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.
- "CONSUMER GROUP FORMED.; New Organization Plans to Give Data on Goods and Services". The New York Times. 6 Feb 1936. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
- "Notes on People; Nader Quits Consumers Union". The New York Times. 23 Aug 1975. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Consumers Union Buys Consumerist". Consumerist. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
- Guest, Jim (2012). "From Our President - Changes for 2012 - Consumer Reports". consumerreports.org. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
- "Lobbying Spending Database - Consumers Union of the US, 2015 | OpenSecrets". www.opensecrets.org. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
- "Form 990" (PDF).