Consumers Union of United States (CU) inspires both trust and fear. Best known for publishing Consumer Reports magazine, the independent not-for-profit organization also serves as a consumer watchdog through other print publications and the Web (ConsumerReports.org). Its subscription site rates products ranging from candy bars to cars. CU tests and rates thousands of products annually through its National Testing and Research Center. CU accepts no advertising and derives income from the sale of Consumer Reports and other services, and from non-commercial contributions, grants, and fees. CU traces its roots to 1926, when engineer Frederick Schlink organized a "consumer club" to rate products.
In addition to its Consumer Reports publication, CU publishes ShopSmart, a magazine aimed at women who want a quick read on consumer items such as food, beauty products, and home and yard products. CU also covers health information through its ConsumerReportsHealth.org website and the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. It has a presence in the blogging world with Consumerist.com, which provides snarky coverage of retail markups and shopper complaints. Rounding out its portfolio of offerings, the organization delivers ratings of product categories to smart phones via its Consumer Reports Mobile service.
CU's magazines, websites, and newsletters have a combined subscription base of more than 8 million. Its staff of lobbyists and activists work to change legislation and the marketplace in favor of the consumer interest. Coinciding with a public weary of corporate practices during a faltering economy, in 2011 the organization reported an increase in revenues thanks to higher sales of its products and more contributions from donors. That year CU helped advocate against Bank of America's unpopular introduction of a monthly $5 debit card fee; the bank eventually ended the practice.
At its headquarters in Yonkers, New York, CU houses the Testing and Research Center, which consists of 50 labs and offices. The organization also has an Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut; and three advocacy offices, in Washington, DC; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco. CU testifies before legislative and regulatory entities and files lawsuits on behalf of consumers. The organization is governed by an 18-member board. Board members are elected by CU members and meet three times a year. To preserve its independence, CU does not permit its ratings or comments to be used commercially.
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