National Consumers League

From the Experts Blog

NCL staff is hard at work for you playing watchdog on a variety of issues. Get to know the latest From the Experts!

Do Not Call Me. Seriously.

by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Five years ago, I had the pleasure of putting my home phone number on the first national Do Not Call list. Dramatically seeing the number of unwanted telemarketing calls drop was a joy for my family. Back when the list was created in 2002, the plan was that consumers who added their phone numbers to the list would remain on it for five years. When the five years were up, they’d have to sign up again. (Unless, of course, they missed being interrupted at dinner time and wanted the calls to resume.)

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission, the agency responsible for the implementation of the list, announced it would not be purging the numbers after five years and require that people re-up. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection of the Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony from the FTC last week pledging to keep the list going without dropping any names. Great news for consumers! Further steps taken by Congress recently indicate our phone numbers will remain protected. House and Senate committees passed bills making it permanent. We see this as a win-win, and I was on National Public Radio’s Marketplace earlier this week to talk about it.


NCL Criticizes 'Gap' in Retailer's Audit System

The National Consumers League, which convenes the Child Labor Coalition, just issued a statement in reaction to admissions from Gap Inc. that one of the vendors somewhere along its supply chain had used the services of bonded child laborers. Turns out the products were in a line of clothing that would have ended up at GapKids. Yuck. NCL's take on it? Good that Gap pulled the products. Bad that it came at this cost. Read the statement here.


Bonjour from the OECD: What's a "global marketplace"?

by Susan Grant There's a lot of talk about the "global marketplace," but what does that mean for the average consumer? It's not just about buying something online from a business in a foreign country. It also encompasses the fact that many goods and services sold in the United States are produced in or provided by other countries. It's also true that many of the companies that American consumers deal with operate in other countries as well, so the policies and practices of those businesses can affect consumers on a global scale. paris.jpgOne important organization that looks at consumer protection globally is the Committee on Consumer Policy at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD represents 30 major democractic industrialized countries from around the world. NCL is sometimes invited by the U.S. government to be part of its delegation to the CCP. At the fall meeting of the CCP, which just concluded in Paris, many issues that are important to U.S. consumers were discussed, including mobile commerce, online identity theft, protecting consumers in the telecommunications market, consumer education, and the role of business self-regulation. I gave an update on the activities of the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, a coalition of 60+ consumer organizations from the U.S. and Europe that provides input to governments on both sides of the Atlantic about how to ensure that consumers have strong, consistent rights and protections.


Are banks doing enough to protect their customers from fraud?

by Susan Grant The answer, in my opinion, is that they can and should do more, and that was the focus of a speech I gave on October 16 a conference organized by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that regulates national banks. The conference brought together people who handle consumers' questions and complaints from the OCC, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the Office of Thrift Supervision. I used four problems -- the current mortgage foreclosure crisis, identity theft, unauthorized debits from consumers' bank accounts, and the explosion of fake check scams -- to provide examples of how banks can help their customers avoid becoming fraud victims. I also asserted that the people who work in the bank regulators' helplines can play an important role in educating both consumers and banks and in spotting serious problems that may need to be addressed quickly.


Entertainment Industry Making Child Labor Abuse News

Last week, the parent company of American Idols Live Tour ‘07’ agreed to pay the New York State Department of Labor $5,000 in fines for 16 child labor violations involving two under age 18 performers.

Earlier this fall, a new television series used children as young as eight years old to scruff out a community of sorts, run by youth, in an isolated New Mexico community. Rumors of injuries, of children performing illegal occupations, and of other exploitation have earned scrutiny of the program. Children participating in the program received $5,000 for their 40 days of round-the-clock on-air entertainment.

Well done to the New York State Department of Labor! Not blinded by the “stars in the eyes” syndrome, it recognized that all working children, regardless of the glamour or lack thereof of the activity, deserve protection from child labor exploitation.

 

In New York State, employers who use performers under 18 must register with the state to ensure compliance with all labor and worker compensation laws. They have to obtain an employment permit for each minor whose services they use. This provides the state with the information of where and how youth are working in entertainment – are they in a bar? -- are they in a strip club? – are they working three shows a day with no days off – is a portion of their wages being protected in a trust fund – is their education being provided – is it a safe workplace?

The bad news is that protecting children in entertainment is up to the states. The worse news is that 19 states, more than a third, don’t regulate children working in entertainment whatsoever. Twenty-five states do not even require the most basic regulation: the requirement for a work permit. Only a handful has bothered to adequately address the safety, education, financial protection, working conditions, morals, and health of children working in entertainment.

It’s a patchwork quilt of state protections. It’s been a long time since Congress provided the exemption from protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act for children working in entertainment. Who has the guts to take this on and once and for all to pass federal protections for these working children?