LifeSmarts celebrates its 20th anniversary at the national championship in Orlando, Florida


Students around the country will travel to Orlando, Florida this weekend for the National LifeSmarts Championship. This tournament marks the 20th anniversary for the program which arms high school students around the country with the knowledge needed to be savvy consumers and responsible adults. The tournament begins on Saturday and will culminate on Tuesday (4/29) with a live broadcast on of the semi-finals and finals.

Teams representing states around the country, the District of Columbia, and student organizations FCCLA and FBLA will compete for LifeSmarts glory. These teams began competition online with the top scoring teams participating in live state competitions. Those winners punched their tickets to Orlando and earned an opportunity to be crowned the 2014 National LifeSmarts Champions.

Follow the action on our Nationals Scoreboard housed on LifeSmarts’ Facebook page. We will be updating the scoreboard in live time. Follow your state’s team to track their success. You can also follow the action on Twitter using #LifeSmarts. This year marks the second-annual LifeSmarts Twitter contest. Top tweeters throughout the national championship tournament will win prizes.



Easter Candy — How to buy worker-friendly sweets?

7-gallery-easter_candy-peepsWith Easter nearly upon us, consumers will be purchasing a lot of candy over the next several days. In recent years, the chocolate industry has been rocked by a child labor scandal, when it became known that 80 percent of chocolate derives from the West African nations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where large numbers of children help harvest cocoa–the main ingredient of chocolate–under conditions that are extremely dangerous and difficult. In many cases, they use razor-sharp machetes and work without pay under circumstances that some advocates have likened to slavery.

How can consumers buy responsible candy—candy free from slavery and abusive child labor?

First, we recommend you check this chocolate scorecard developed by the group Green America in 2010. The groups that have been given an “A” grade are making a substantial effort to eliminate child labor and ensure that workers and farmers are fairly treated. We know “Divine” chocolate the best; they work with farmers cooperatives to reduce child labor and help farmers earn better prices.

The scorecard also explains various consumer certification programs like Fair Trade that try to ensure decent livelihoods for farmers and take steps to protect against child labor, although many child labor advocates recognize that monitoring efforts may not successfully ensure products are child-labor free.

In addition to purchasing chocolate that is child-labor free, NCL also advises consumers to purchase union-made products because we believe collective bargaining helps guarantee fair wages and decent benefits for workers. Check out this list of union-made candy, complied by Union Plus. The list represents the products produced by members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM); the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); and the fruit and nuts from members of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

Included on the list, which Green America compiled in 2010, are Hershey and Nestle – two companies that produce union made candy but have received poor grades on the chocolate scorecard. Hershey’s products (excluding “Hershey’s Bliss”) have been given an “F” grade in large part because of its extremely slow, lackluster response to child labor allegations.  More recently, the company announced a certification scheme to ensure their products are child-labor free by the year 2020, but it doesn’t seem to be making any progress in enacting that scheme. Hershey currently is also facing a shareholder lawsuit over its refusal to release documents about the presence of child labor in its supply chain.Additionally, a few years ago, Hershey’s used a contractor that was accused of trafficking foreign students, essentially tricking them into signing up for a cultural exchange program and then forcing them to work in a factory. In 2009, a 29-year-old worker drowned in a vat of chocolate in a New Jersey factory that supplied chocolate to Hershey, raising questions about the company’s willingness to risk worker safety in its pursuit of low product cost.

You’ll note that Nestle, another major manufacturer of chocolate, received a “D” grade. The company was long criticized for its slow response to child labor allegations. In 2011, after it received the poor grade, Nestle took a step forward by hiring the Fair Labor Association (FLA), an independent third party monitoring group that is helping it identify supply chain problems.

University of San Francisco Professor Beth Hoffman, a Forbes contributor has recently accused the chocolate industry of undercutting prices to farmers and farm workers.Prices for cocoa stand at less than half of what they were in 1980, her piece notes. She adds that in the 1970s, “fifty percent of the cost of a chocolate bar went to pay for cocoa, today that is less than 6 percent.”

For more information about the list of union-made candy, please visit Union Plus and if you’d like a mobile version of the Union Plus list sent to your phone, please text CANDY to 22555.

While Congress stagnates, your tax dollars are hard at work


By Larry Bostian, Vice President, Development

Here’s a thought. When you’re feeling disheartened about partisan bickering in Congress, think about this: your tax dollars are supporting the work of outstanding, hard-working, and knowledgeable public servants who’ve got your back. Last week, my colleague Kelsey Albright and I met with an EPA staffer who gave us a crash course on food waste. Nearly 30% of the food US agriculture produces is wasted! Not only is she knowledgeable about the subject, she also helped us understand the part played by each sector in the food-supply chain, including us consumers. NCL is considering what we can do to help address this important problem.

Later that day, Rebecca Burkholder, Ayanna Johnson, and I met with a cheerful and equally hard-working team at FDA to talk about NCL’s Script Your Future medication adherence campaign. FDA supports the campaign, which is complementing its mission of ensuring that the prescription and OTC drugs that Americans take are safe and effective and that consumers understand how to take them properly. They are doing a lot at FDA with very limited staff and resources,

On March 11-12, Rebecca will participate in a two-day meeting convened by CERTs, the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research’s Centers for Drug Education and Research in Therapeutics. The meeting will focus on what’s working to boost adherence. The AHRQ staffer who organized the meeting, herself a physician, has generously invested time and energy in the issue and in Script Your Future.

We could all list many more federal government employees who exhibit the same traits: strong commitment to public service, deep substantive knowledge coupled with a sophisticated understanding of their issue’s political implications, an enthusiastic willingness to engage with consumers and with stakeholder groups like NCL.

Celebrate National Consumer Protection Week


This week is National Consumer Protection Week. Consumers can visit and find resources on a variety of topics ranging from banking to identity theft to technology and so much more to avoid common consumer pitfalls. While consumers face threats year round, take some time this week to learn about common threats to a consumer’s wallet and make sure you stay protected.

Meet NCL’s new public policy intern

EWEvelyn Wong – University of the Pacific ’15

Hello readers, my name is Evelyn Wong and I’m the new intern here at NCL. I’m a Political Science major from the University of the Pacific (UOP) in California and I’ve decided to trade sunshine and temperate weather for the snow, wind, and rain of DC. I actually love the weather so far, because I think all Californians are enamored with snow. We’re also very covetous of rain right now!

I’m here as part of the Washington Semester Program of American University. It’s a program that all my professors extolled as “life changing” and “an unforgettable experience.” I had actually found out about NCL and had met one of the staff, Lucinda Cassidy, at AU’s internship bazaar.

As part of the Justice and Law program at American, I am interested in a wide range of public policy issues, which is why I was drawn towards the internships of advocacy organizations like NCL. In particular, I’m interested in public policy areas that are focused on protecting consumer and workers’ interests . Since everyone is in this category, it is clear that the NCL plays a crucial role that affects everyone’s lifestyles and decisions. I am happy to be a part of such an important mission and I hope to contribute to their efforts while I’m here.



Help support NCL’s mission #GivingTuesday

GT pic

For the first time this year NCL will participate in Giving Tuesday, a national day of giving to help kick off the holiday season. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, more than 8,300 non-profits will aim to grab a piece of the post-Thanksgiving spending flurry. Consumers spent more than $12 billion on Black Friday, the biggest spending day of the year. Billions more were spent on Thanksgiving and will be spent on Cyber Monday.

This year, direct your charitable giving to the National Consumers League. Just a small donation can help:

Donate today, help support NCL’s 114-year legacy protecting America’s consumers and workers!


Thanksgiving: A time for family, good food, and exploiting workers


By Larry Bostian, Vice President, Development

Isn’t it a little strange that the day after Thanksgiving should come to be called Black Friday? Black implies dreariness, oblivion, death. Odd that we’ve come as a nation to believe it’s our duty, almost before the turkey’s cold, to rush out and buy stuff, maybe to help retailers compensate for lost sales on the holiday itself.

Now we learn that many retailers, not content to open early on Black Friday, are throwing tradition and the holiday out the window entirely and opening for business on Thanksgiving Day. Before we rush to the mall, however, let’s pause a moment and consider. Have these retailers given their workers a choice about coming to work on Thanksgiving? Are they offering holiday pay, even for the legions of their employees who are stuck working part-time? When Walmart is placing baskets in its stores for “associates” to contribute to their needy fellow associates, well, isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

Working people need time with their families, not just to give thanks once a year, but regularly. It takes time to nurture connection, to rest and recover from the stress and strain of work that, for too many Americans, doesn’t pay well enough for them to get by. There are many people and organizations who decry the breakdown of the family. Let’s invite them to join us worker and consumer advocates in saying to the big retailers: Enough! Stand down and let your “associates” have an uninterrupted day with their families. If you must open for business on Thanksgiving Day, give them a choice, and compensate them fairly. And for us all, whenever we’re out looking for a bargain, let’s thank that hardworking and underpaid associate and remember he or she likely has a family too.

Free webinar: Improving communication between patients and health care professionals

Dr. Ira Wilson of Brown University will lead webinar "Medication Adherence in Practice" on November 19.

Dr. Ira Wilson of Brown University will lead the webinar “Medication Adherence in Practice” on November 19.

Three out of 4 four Americans do not take their medications as prescribed. Open communication between health care professionals and their patients can be a powerful tool for improving rates of medication adherence. Health care professionals including nurses, doctors, and pharmacists can inform patients about the importance of taking their medicines as directed in order to improve overall health outcomes. Often, it is difficult to know the right questions to ask for both the patient and health care professional.

NCL’s Script Your Future campaign is holding its first-ever free webinar for health care professionals to learn how to talk with patients about taking medication as directed.  This webinar, on November 19 at 12noon Eastern, is a part of ongoing efforts to provide resources to both patients and health care professionals about medication adherence and how to improve communication in the health care setting. There are many reasons why people don’t take their medicine as directed, including forgetfulness, side effects, not sure they need medicine, and cost. Having that conversation to understand the patients’ concerns can help health care professionals provide better care.

Featuring Dr. Ira Wilson from Brown University, the webinar will present health care professionals with tools to communicate effectively with patients. Dr. Wilson will include real-world examples and solutions that he has developed over the years to establish trust with his patients and improve care.

This webinar is a must-attend for any professional who is looking to improve their skills. Join this free webinar today by registering here. Bring your questions to this exciting and interactive event!

What: Webinar for health care professionals – doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, etc.

When: Tuesday, November 19, 12noon – 1 pm Eastern

Contact Ayanna Johnson at with any questions.

For more information about the Script Your Future campaign, visit

November is Family Caregivers Month and a time to reexamine the role of the caregiver

By Sarah Hijaz, Health Policy Intern

Sarah is a recent graduate of The George Washington University Trachtenberg of Public Policy and Public Administration, where she received a Master of Public Policy (MPP). Her main background is in public health, having worked in clinical trial protocol development and cancer health disparity research and outreach efforts. Sarah plans to pursue a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree, concentrating on health policy. During the interim period before starting a DrPH program, an internship at NCL is a great opportunity to gain exposure to the advocacy side of public health and health policy. 

November is Family Caregivers Month, and as President Obama describes it’s meant to “recognize and thank the humble heroes who do so much to keep our families and communities strong.” Family caregivers are individuals, including friends or neighbors that dedicate unpaid time and resources towards caring for the physical and/or mental health of a loved one. The Caregiver Action Network, a non-profit organization that provides support, education, and resources to family caregivers across the United States, has identified the theme for this year’s Family Caregivers Month as “Now More Than Ever.” Family caregiver advocates are increasingly calling for a shift in the focus of national conversation away from the concept that family caregivers are simply providers of care to a more relationship in which these caregivers are also integral members of loved ones’ healthcare teams.

There are 90 million family caregivers in this country; that’s two out of every five adults who care for one or more family members. Certain patient populations that depend heavily on family caregiving support are rising, such as those suffering from Alzheimer’s, children with special needs, as well as wounded veterans. The overall population of adult caregivers has correspondingly risen from 30% to 39% in the past 3 years.

Often, many caregivers find themselves in this challenging and complex role suddenly and with little warning or time for preparation. Patient health issues can be purely physical, emphasizing family care activities that focus on duties such as administration of medications or household help. However, other loved ones may suffer from psychological ailments that leave them unable to take part in their care planning, transforming the family caregiver into a healthcare decision maker. Because of the many different roles that a family caregiver can play, there are rising calls for a more formal recognition of family caregivers as key members of patient-centered teams.

This past Friday, I attended a conference at The Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health in Washington, DC. The focus of the event was “Identifying Family Caregivers in Electronic Health Records (EHRs).” Technology is beginning to play a larger role in healthcare, especially technology aimed at compiling and organizing patient information. Proponents of EHRs claim that computerizing patient health records can have many benefits, such as reducing unnecessary testing and prescribing. The push towards expanding EHRs to all healthcare settings is gaining traction; the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act even includes elements to support this drive. While EHRs can expand patient-provider communication and improve health care, there are concerns that family caregivers might not have equal access to electronic records. Especially since family caregivers have so far been under-recognized as valid healthcare team members.

There was no doubt in the room that supporting patients/loved ones requires expanding the healthcare team to include family caregivers. However, while this concept may seem straightforward, there are plenty of questions that need to be addressed in order to incorporate this goal into EHRs. For example, are family caregivers’ formally identified in the EHR? Does the patient identify family caregivers? If so, what if the patient is suffering from dementia? At what point do caregiver demands and the seriousness of a patient’s conditions warrant the designation of someone who is “helping out” to be an official family caregiver?  There is a great deal that needs to be clarified as the healthcare system in this country continues it push towards expanded EHR systems.

Family caregiving is not only an evolving role, but also is an evolving concept. The nature of what constitutes a family caregiver is being discussed and debated. The increasing conversation on this topic can only improve our understanding and will hopefully improve care for patients under the attention of family caregivers as well as ease the burden associated with caring for a loved one. For more than 90 million Americans, Family Caregivers Month is not the only time of the year that family caregiving is recognized and reflected upon. Patients and their professional healthcare providers have long asserted the important nature of family caregiving.

Air travel insurance big bucks, little protection

planeskyIn a new report, NCL took a close look at travel insurance associated with airline tickets and found a string of disturbing trends in the industry.  Among the finds in the report are rising cancellations fees, the four U.S. legacy airlines just increased cancellation/change fees to $200 per ticket; an increase in revenue from travel insurance, in 2010 travel insurance was a $1.8 billion industry and between 2006-2010 travel insurance sales increased 39%; and the widespread use of misleading language and dense policy descriptions in airline insurance policies increasing consumer confusion over what these policies actually cover. We urge consumers to inform themselves about these policies before paying extra money for insurance.

Tips for consumers:

  1. Be sure to read over the exclusions and fine print of any travel insurance policy before you buy.
  2. Some travel insurance policies include a cooling off period during which you can cancel and receive a refund on your premium. Check you certificate of insurance for details.
  3. Before purchasing travel insurance, check to see if you’re already covered by other policies. For example, many credit card companies offer travel insurance protection to their cardholders.
  4. Check out an airline or online travel agencies’ cancellation fee policy before your buy. Some airlines charge low or no fees and instead bank the value of the ticket for a future flight.

Find out more about these travel insurance policies and check out our Facebook page to find out what your insurance actually covers.