This article concerns the magazine and flagship publication of Consumer Reports, the organization formerly known as Consumers Union.
Consumer Reports is a magazine that is the flagship publication of its parent company Consumer Reports (formerly known as Consumers Union of the United States). The magazine was founded in 1936 in response to several writers at a competing consumer research magazine went on strike and ultimately started their own magazine. At its initial publication, it was unique for criticizing products by name. The magazine gained notoriety in the 20th century for publishing criticism of the tobacco industry over health concerns, and for testing and reviewing a variety of products. The organization has a longstanding partnership with left-of-center activist Ralph Nader, who has served as a board member, over auto safety and other advocacy issues.
While billing itself as a nonpartisan publication, Consumer Reports also maintains an advocacy and lobbying arm, the Consumers Union Action Fund, that advocates for left-leaning consumer policies on issues such as environmentalism, food and nutrition, and subsidizing the use of electric vehicles.
Consumer Reports is funded through sales of magazine subscriptions as well as by notable left-leaning grantmaking organizations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies.
Consumer Reports was founded in 1936 following a strike among employees at Consumers’ Research, another nonprofit consumer testing organization that was founded in 1929. The strike at Consumers’ Research resulted in the head of the organization firing several of the strikers and describing them as communists. As a result, the strikers formed a new organization called Consumers Union and began publishing the magazine under the name Consumers Union Reports. Consumers Union changed the name of the magazine to Consumers Reports in 1942.
The founding of Consumers Union was opposed by many magazine publishers with several outlets refusing to provide advertising space for the organization over its policy of criticizing products by name. Early products evaluated by the organization included milk, soap, breakfast cereal, credit unions, and Alka-Seltzer. In the 1950s and 1960s, Consumer Reports grew rapidly, as did its efforts around consumer advocacy including publishing criticism of the tobacco industry over the tar and nicotine content of cigarettes. During this period was when the organization began to ramp up its lobbying and advocacy efforts, which included staff and board members of the organization testifying on public policy issues including drug pricing and automobile safety. The organization also began providing funding to other left-of-center consumer advocacy groups including American Council on Consumer Interests and Ralph Nader’s Center for Auto Safety. Nader eventually joined the board of Consumers Union.
In 2018, Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, abandoned the name Consumers Union, and rebranded as Consumer Reports Advocacy and continued to publish Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports is a nonprofit and claims to have over six million members and subscribers of its print and online publications. The organization also has a 501(c)(4) lobbying arm, the Consumers Union Action Fund. The organization still conducts product testing and reviews on hundreds of products with the most popular reviews being for cars, electronics, and household appliances.
Consumer Reports is best known for its research and testing activities, access to the results of which are the main selling point for the organization’s online and print magazine subscription service. The organization’s product and service testing center is in Weschester, New York, and is the largest such center in the world. The testing center also includes a 327-acre automobile testing center, the largest auto testing center outside of the auto industry. In all, the organization employs over 140 testers across 63 separate labs. Despite the organization’s emphasis on testing, it spends just $27 million of its nearly $250 million annual expenses on testing,
Consumer Reports also advocates on public policy issues. The advocacy work done by Consumer Reports mostly is done through Consumer Reports Advocacy, which is a department within the same organization. Consumer Reports discloses $1.2 million in direct lobbying expenses and also has a small 501(c)(4) lobbying arm, the Consumers Union Action Fund. Issue areas that the organization engages on include car safety, energy and environmentalism, food and nutrition, tech policy, data privacy, and product safety. The organization is often most associated with encouraging action among the magazine’s subscriber base to urge lawmakers and regulators to enact strict product safety reforms to restrict the activities of businesses. Recent issues that Consumer Reports Advocacy has lobbied on include supporting clean car standards, strict standards on food and beverage distribution, and greenhouse gas emissions standards.
Multiple individuals on the leadership team at Consumer Reports have ties to left-leaning advocacy and funding organizations. Marta Tellado is the president and CEO of Consumer Reports. Tellado was hired by Consumers Union in 2014 and was previously the vice president for global communications at the Ford Foundation, which is among the largest funders of left-leaning nonprofits. Tellado began her career working for left-wing activist Ralph Nader, a longtime ally of Consumer Reports.
The organization’s advocacy efforts are led by David Friedman, who previously worked for the left-leaning environmentalist group the Union of Concerned Scientists and then served in multiple roles in the Obama Administration including as the Deputy Administrator and later Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at the Department of Transportation and later at the U.S. Department of Energy as Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary of the office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).
Consumer Reports’ board of directors includes Ellen Taus, the retired CFO and Treasurer of the Rockefeller Foundation; Calvin Sims, the executive vice president of standards at CNN; and Edmund Mierwinski, the senior director of federal consumer programs at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).
Consumer Reports claims it has over 575,000 annual supporters and is additionally funded by left-leaning grantmaking organizations such as the Ford Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Energy Foundation.