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!

Federal Reserve Chair Gives Shout-out to LifeSmarts

by NCL staff We just found out that, in a Nov. 29 speech given at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce in North Carolina, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke, gave a shout-out to LifeSmarts! He was praising the Charlotte Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond for its local efforts to advance financial literacy, and he included our LifeSmarts program in a list of partnerships the Branch has engaged. You go, LifeSmarts! Read the speech!

Charity Scams Tugging at Our Heartstrings – and Wallets

By Sally Greenberg, Executive Director

It’s that time of year again, when you can’t hit the mall without running into at least one bell-ringer bundled up in the cold outside a storefront, seeking donations from consumers. It’s nice to know that Americans are such a charitable bunch. According to an MSNBC story by our friend Herb Weisbaum, we are expected to donate about $300 billion to charity this year, half of which will be contributed between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Isn't that wonderful?

It’s a great time of year to donate. One NCL staffer has found a local DC charity that needs donations of toys for kids this month that we all plan to give to. (Lead-free ones, of course.) But consumers do need to be careful, especially right now, about the possibility that a charitable solicitation may be fraudulent. This time of year, when both legitimate and fraudulent charities will try to tug at our heartstrings, we need to remember to watch for some warning signs like high-pressure tactics or the “charity” not being registered. The Better Business Bureau has a Wise Giving Alliance that can help you identify a good charity, and the National Center for Responsible Philanthropy helps keep charities accountable about what portion of their funding goes to the services they provide.

Wake up, Congress! Wal-Mart Pressure on Chinese Suppliers Making Toys Less Safe

by National Consumers League staff

It turns out that more than 70 percent of the merchandise on Wal-Mart's shelves come from China. If Wal-Mart were a country, the retail giant would be China’s sixth largest trading partner. That's ahead of Germany and England.

This is particularly interesting -- and particularly during this time of year -- because it also controls about a-third of America’s toy market, making it the number one seller of toys in the United States. It's even bigger than stores that specialize in the sale of toys. We learned recently that Wal-Mart is the #1 customer for each of the four companies that have issued major toy recalls in 2007. These four companies -- Mattel, Hasbro, RC2 Corporation, and Graco - have recalled a combined 13 million toys in the past 10 months.

During the holiday shopping season, this toy safety fiasco is scarier than ever for millions of parents in the United States who may be worried about the toys their children are going to receive as gifts in the coming weeks.

We think it's intense pressure from toy retailers like Wal-Mart to continually shave costs on the manufacturing side that may have contributed to the diminished quality and safety of the toys that American consumers buy. We want Congress to take a closer look at this issue and consider what can be done to protect consumers, especially children, from the consequences of this relentless pressure on toy manufacturers.

We signed on to a letter that was sent today by and Wal-Mart Watch, joining other leading consumer and environmental groups, to North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, who chairs the Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade & Tourism, asking him to call for hearings on Wal-Mart’s pressure on Chinese suppliers.

The Post-Thanksgiving Return-to-Work-Blues: Thank Goodness for Online Shopping

by National Consumers League staff Today is Cyber Monday, the day retailers herald as seeing the most Internet-based shopping activity. In fact, some are going so far as to expect that more money will change hands (from consumers to merchants) than did even on Black Friday. If so many Americans are avoiding the mall and shopping online, how do they know whether they're perusing the virtual "aisles" of reputable merchants or about to fall victim to the sophisticated scams of con artists operating online? By getting to know our tips for shopping online safely, that's how!

FDA Announces Board Members of Reagan-Udall Foundation

by Ria Eapen, NCL Health Policy Associate

Two Fridays ago, I attended a Food and Drug Administration briefing on the Reagan-Udall Foundation following the much-awaited release of the names of the Foundation’s board members earlier that day. The briefing was led by Dr. Janet Woodcock, FDA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer, and participants at the briefing included representatives from patient and consumer advocacy groups.

The Reagan-Udall Foundation was created under Title VI of the recently enacted Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007, which was signed into law by President Bush on September 27. It's the new private and independent nonprofit organization created to advance the FDA’s mission to speed up the development of new drug, food, and cosmetic products, and to make sure they’re as safe as possible. The creation of the foundation is part of FDA’s efforts to revamp how agency-regulated products are developed, manufactured, and evaluated for safety and effectiveness, as well as to help private and public stakeholders collaborate on the priorities identified in FDA’s Critical Path reports. The board is made up of 14 members, including four from industry, three from academic research, two from patient or consumer advocacy groups, and four at-large representatives. NCL and other consumer groups strongly supported the decision to include representation of patient or consumer advocacy groups on the board, and we voiced our concern during the nomination process that those nominated may not be conflict-free (i.e., have no financial conflicts of interest or ties to industry) or truly represent the public’s interest in medical research. Participants at the briefing additionally expressed concern over what projects the Foundation would focus on, how those projects would be selected, what would be produced from the projects, and whether the Foundation would be able to dedicate time towards projects on rare diseases that do not typically receive as much attention or funding.