National Consumers League

Last updated
National Consumers League Label (1899) National Consumers League Label - 1899.jpg
National Consumers League Label (1899)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is an American consumer organization. The National Consumers League is a private, nonprofit advocacy group representing consumers on marketplace and workplace issues. The NCL provides government, businesses, and other organizations with the consumer's perspective on concerns including child labor, privacy, food safety, and medication information.


The organization was chartered in 1899 by social reformers Jane Addams and Josephine Lowell. Its first general secretary was Florence Kelley. Under Kelley's direction, the League's early focus was to oppose the harsh, unregulated working conditions many Americans were forced to endure. The founding principles of the NCL are: "That the working conditions we accept for our fellow citizens should be reflected by our purchases, and that consumers should demand safety and reliability from the goods and services they buy." The league's focus continues to be to promote a fair marketplace for workers and consumers. [1]


The NCL based their organization on the ideals of consumer citizenship, in which it is a citizens duty to advocate for government legislation and use their individual purchasing power to shape a more ethical consumer market. For many years the majority of the members were middle or upper class women who worked primarily in cross-class activism using their power as consumers to protect those in their community who had fewer resources and whose voices carried less social currency. They pushed for better working conditions and a higher standard of available products for the purchaser. The league used tools such as investigating and educating to promote change. League members would often do thorough investigations in order to study the relevant social problems within their community. They would then create a report and present it to other women and community members often through public events, women's talk clubs, or fairs. [2]  In its early years it would award a company or producer with a "White Label" which signified that the league was in approval of their ethicality and it would be recognized by other informed consumers. [3] As they progressed they turned their attention more toward implementing legislation that would provide protection to exploited workers and consumers. In the 1970s they shifted their focus onto the well being of consumers as individuals rather than the focus on working conditions. [2]

Prominent Members

Part of exhibit, N.Y.C.L. and Consumers League regarding the working conditions of the people who made clothing as sketched by journalist Marguerite Martyn, 1910 Part of exhibit, N.Y.C.L. and Consumers League.jpg
Part of exhibit, N.Y.C.L. and Consumers League regarding the working conditions of the people who made clothing as sketched by journalist Marguerite Martyn, 1910
Florence Kelley as sketched by journalist Marguerite Martyn, 1910 Florence Kelley of the Consumers League, sketched by Marguerite Martyn, 1910.jpg
Florence Kelley as sketched by journalist Marguerite Martyn, 1910

Florence Kelley

In founding the National Consumers League in 1899, one of Kelley's primary concerns was that the league oppose sweatshop labor. Kelley also worked to establish a work-day limited to eight hours. She worked in support of unionization to further protect workers. In 1907 she participated in the Supreme Court case Muller v. Oregon , which sought to overturn limits to the hours female workers could work in non-hazardous professions. [3] Kelley helped to file the Brandeis Brief, which included sociological and medical evidence of the hazards of working long hours, and set the precedent of the Supreme Court's recognition of sociological evidence, which was used to great effect later in the case Brown v. Board of Education . In addition, Kelley assisted in organizing the National Association For Advancement of Colored People. [3]

Esther Peterson

Esther Peterson's involvement in the NCL played an important role in consumer politics and worked within government office as well as the consumer market itself. She was a long time member of the NCL having worked with them as early as 1944 and served as the organizations president from 1974-1976. Peterson worked with the White House as a Special Assistant on Consumer Affairs from 1964-70 during Lyndon B.Johnson's presidency. She carried on her position as director of the Office of Consumer Affairs until 1981. Peterson was also a consumer advisor for the supermarket chain, Giant, from 1970-1976. Peterson also worked closely with president Jimmy Carter's office to represent consumers in policy making. Peterson dedicated her work to consumer protections like accurate food labeling and advocated for protections regarding class, race, and gender in the workforce and consumer market. Peterson made efforts to improve the market in ways that would benefit both business and consumer. [4]

Eras of Activism

New Deal Era

In the 1920s and 1930's the NCL focus was set on lobbying for a gendered-minimum wage. As the U.S. entered the depression they began to lobby for both male and female working conditions and contributed to the passing of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which is one of their first legislative achievements that set a standard for working conditions and outlawed child labor. [2] In addition they fought for the use of the codes for fair competition through pressuring the National Recovery Administration. The NCL experienced some opposition through the New Deal Era from the National Women's Party over differing beliefs of gendered-wages. [5]

Current leadership

Sally Greenberg, formerly a senior attorney at Consumers Union (CU), is the executive director of the National Consumers League. Greenberg has worked with members of Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, other federal agencies, the media and consumer safety organizations to shape policy on such issues as product safety, auto safety, and legal and liability reform. [6]


LifeSmarts ( is a free program designed to teach teenagers consumer rights and responsibilities as they pertain to health, finance, technology, and the environment. [7] is a reporting platform through which the National Consumers League collects information about scams, extracts trends from data, and forwards reports to law enforcement. [8]

The Child Labor Coalition ( was formed in 1989 to combat child labor and protect teen workers from health and safety hazards. It is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers. [9]

Script Your Future ( is a public awareness initiative which teaches patients undergoing long-term prescription therapy the importance of communicating with healthcare professionals and following regimens carefully. [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

Labour laws are those that mediate the relationship between workers, employing entities, trade unions and the government. Collective labour law relates to the tripartite relationship between employee, employer and union. Individual labour law concerns employees' rights at work also through the contract for work. Employment standards are social norms for the minimum socially acceptable conditions under which employees or contractors are allowed to work. Government agencies enforce labour law.

Sweatshop Workplace that has socially unacceptable working conditions

A sweatshop or sweat factory is a crowded workplace with very poor, socially unacceptable or illegal working conditions. Some illegal working conditions include poor ventilation, little to no breaks, inadequate work space, insufficient lighting, or uncomfortably high temperatures. The work may be difficult, tiresome, dangerous, climatically challenging or underpaid. Workers in sweatshops may work long hours with unfair wages, regardless of laws mandating overtime pay or a minimum wage; child labor laws may also be violated. Women make up 85 to 90% of sweatshop workers and would be forced by employers to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests to avoid supporting maternity leave or providing health benefits. The Fair Labor Association's "2006 Annual Public Report" inspected factories for FLA compliance in 18 countries including Bangladesh, El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Malaysia, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, China, India, Vietnam, Honduras, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and the US. The U.S. Department of Labor's "2015 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor" found that "18 countries did not meet the International Labour Organization's recommendation for an adequate number of inspectors."

Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908), was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court. Women were provided by state mandate lesser work-hours than allotted to men. The posed question was whether women's liberty to negotiate a contract with an employer should be equal to a man's. The law did not recognize sex-based discrimination in 1908; it was unrecognized until the case of Reed v. Reed in 1971; here, the test was not under the equal protections clause, but a test based on the general police powers of the state to protect the welfare of women when it infringed on her fundamental right to negotiate contracts; inequality was not a deciding factor because the sexes were inherently different in their particular conditions and had completely different functions; usage of labor laws that were made to nurture women's welfare and for the "benefit of all" people was decided to be not a violation of the Constitution's Contract Clause.

Child labor laws in the United States

Child labor laws in the United States address issues related to the employment and welfare of working children in the United States. The most sweeping federal law that restricts the employment and abuse of child workers is the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA). Child labor provisions under FLSA are designed to protect the educational opportunities of youth and prohibit their employment in jobs that are detrimental to their health and safety. FLSA restricts the hours that youth under 16 years of age can work and lists hazardous occupations too dangerous for young workers to perform.

Mary Dewson

Mary Williams (Molly) Dewson (1874–1962) was an American feminist and political activist. After graduating from Wellesley College in 1897, she worked for the Women's Educational and Industrial Union. She became an active member of the National Consumers League (NCL) and received mentorship from Florence Kelley, a famous advocate for social justice feminism and General Secretary of the NCL. Dewson's later role as civic secretary of the Women's City Club of New York (WCCNY) led to her meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, who later convinced Dewson to be more politically active in the Democratic Party. Dewson went on to take over Roosevelt's role as head of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Campaign Committee. Dewson's "Reporter Plan" mobilized thousands of women to spread information about the New Deal legislation and garner support for it. In connection with the Reporter Plan, the Women's Division held regional conferences for women. This movement led to a historically high level of female political participation.

National Recovery Administration

The National Recovery Administration (NRA) was a prime agency established by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in 1933. The goal of the administration was to eliminate "cut throat competition" by bringing industry, labor, and government together to create codes of "fair practices" and set prices. The NRA was created by the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and allowed industries to get together and write "codes of fair competition." The codes intended both to help workers set maximum wages and maximum weekly hours, as well as minimum prices at which products could be sold. The NRA also had a two-year renewal charter and was set to expire in June 1935 if not renewed.

Labor rights or workers' rights are both legal rights and human rights relating to labor relations between workers and employers. These rights are codified in national and international labor and employment law. In general, these rights influence working conditions in relations of employment. One of the most prominent is the right to freedom of association, otherwise known as the right to organize. Workers organized in trade unions exercise the right to collective bargaining to improve working conditions.

Florence Kelley

Florence Moltrop Kelley was a social and political reformer and the pioneer of the term wage abolitionism. Her work against sweatshops and for the minimum wage, eight-hour workdays, and children's rights is widely regarded today.

Josephine Clara Goldmark

Josephine Clara Goldmark was an advocate of labor law reform in the United States during the early 20th century. Her work against child labor and for wages-and-hours legislation was influential in the passage of the Keating–Owen Act in 1916 and the later Fair Labor Standards Act of 1937.

United States Womens Bureau

The United States Women's Bureau (WB) is an agency of the United States government within the United States Department of Labor. The Women's Bureau works to create parity for women in the labor force by conducting research and policy analysis, to inform and promote policy change, and to increase public awareness and education.

Decent work

Decent work is employment that "respects the fundamental rights of the human person as well as the rights of workers in terms of conditions of work safety and remuneration. ... respect for the physical and mental integrity of the worker in the exercise of his/her employment."

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Based in Immokalee, Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a worker-based human rights organization internationally recognized for its achievements in the fields of social responsibility, human trafficking, and gender-based violence at work. Built on a foundation of farmworker community organizing starting in 1993, and reinforced with the creation of a national consumer network since 2000, CIW's work has steadily grown over more than twenty years to encompass several overlapping spheres:

International Labor Rights Forum Organization

The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) is a nonprofit advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., U.S., that describes itself as "an advocate for and with the working poor around the world." ILRF, formerly the "International Labor Rights Education & Research Fund", was founded in 1986, and the organization's mission statement reads: "ILRF believes that all workers have the right to a safe working environment where they are treated with dignity and respect, and where they can organize freely to defend and promote their rights and interests. ILRF works to develop practical and effective tools to assist workers in winning enforcement of protections for their basic rights, and hold labor rights violators accountable."

Farmworker Performs agricultural labor

A farmworker or agricultural worker is someone employed for labor in agriculture. In labor law, the term "farmworker" is sometimes used more narrowly, applying only to a hired worker involved in agricultural production, including harvesting, but not to a worker in other on-farm jobs, such as picking fruit.

The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) is the garment industry's largest alliance of labour unions and non-governmental organizations. The civil society campaign focuses on the improvement of working conditions in the garment and sportswear industries. Formed in the Netherlands in 1989, the CCC has campaigns in 15 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The CCC works with a partner network of more than 250 organizations around the world.

Anti-sweatshop movement refers to campaigns to improve the conditions of workers in sweatshops, i.e. manufacturing places characterized by low wages, poor working conditions and often child labor. It started in the 19th century in industrialized countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom to improve the conditions of workers in those countries.

Lucy Randolph Mason

Lucy Randolph Mason was a 20th-century American labor activist and suffragette. She was involved in the union movement, the consumer movement and the civil rights movement in the mid-20th century.

Nike, Inc. has been accused of using sweatshops-like factories and worker abuse to produce footwear and apparel in East Asia.

The consumer movement is an effort to promote consumer protection through an organized social movement, which is in many places led by consumer organizations. It advocates for the rights of consumers, especially when those rights are actively breached by the actions of corporations, governments, and other organizations which provide products and services to consumers. Consumer movements also commonly advocate for increased health and safety standards, honest information about products in advertising, and consumer representation in political bodies.

International labour law is the body of rules spanning public and private international law which concern the rights and duties of employees, employers, trade unions and governments in regulating the workplace. The International Labour Organization and the World Trade Organization have been the main international bodies involved in reforming labour markets. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have indirectly driven changes in labour policy by demanding structural adjustment conditions for receiving loans or grants. Issues regarding Conflict of laws arise, determined by national courts, when people work in more than one country, and supra-national bodies, particularly in the law of the European Union, has a growing body of rules regarding labour rights.


  1. National Consumers League (2009). A Brief Look Back on 100+ Years of Advocacy. Retrieved on: 2012-01-06.
  2. 1 2 3 Jacobs, Meg (2001). "Review of Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era". The Business History Review. 75 (3): 610–613. doi:10.2307/3116396. ISSN   0007-6805. JSTOR   3116396.
  3. 1 2 3 Dreier, Peter (2012). "FLORENCE KELLEY: Pioneer of Labor Reform". New Labor Forum. 21 (1): 70–76. doi:10.4179/NLF.211.0000011. ISSN   1095-7960. JSTOR   41408604.
  4. Black, Lawrence (2018-12-28). "The market imperfections of business, shoppers and consumerism: Esther Peterson and the legacies of the National Consumers' League". Historical Research. 92 (255): 205–227. doi:10.1111/1468-2281.12253. ISSN   0950-3471.
  5. Simon, Bryant (2001). "Review of Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era". Enterprise & Society. 2 (2): 411–413. doi:10.1093/es/2.2.411. ISSN   1467-2227. JSTOR   23699587.
  6. "Leadership – National Consumers League" . Retrieved 2020-12-09.
  7. Alan Miller, "LifeSmarts Competition aims to teach students practical life knowledge", KFYR-TV, 2017-02-08
  8. Nathan Grimm, "Sources: personal info of nearly 300 Alton Steel employees compromised", The Telegraph, 2017-02-08
  9. Green America, "Green America and The Child Labor Coalition Warn of Curtis Ellis Heading DOL's Bureau of International Labor Affairs", PR Newswire, 2017-05-18
  10. Damita Thomas, "NEOMED College of Pharmacy Wins National Awards", Patch Media, 2017-05-31

Further reading