Marta Tellado on Cuba Consumers Reports and Corporate Domination

In August 1961, Marta Tellado’s parents packed Marta and her three brothers, all under age six, into their car and drove off to Havana airport on the way to the United States.

“My father was so worried about neighbors reporting us that he rolled the car past their houses before he turned on the engine,” Tellado writes in the opening of her new book Buyer Aware. “I was two years old.”

“My father, the only child of two domestic workers from Spain, and my Cuban mother, who had dropped out of school to sew garments in a sweatshop, were embarking on an improbable journey together. They had been sympathetic at first to the changes that Castro’s overthrow of the Batista government promised to bring. But it became clear to them after about a year that the revolution meant replacing the Batista dictatorship with the Castro dictatorship.”

Tellado says that leaving Havana broke her parents hearts and that “all my life I’ve been committed to ensuring that my parents’ heartbreak wouldn’t be in vain, and to do all I could to make the country they brought me to a place where democratic freedoms and economic equity would coexist and thrive.”

“The irony is that the nation I live in, once a beacon of democracy for my parents, is now dominated by corporations that value profit over people, safety and well-being,” Tellado writes.

Tellado is now CEO of the nation’s largest consumer organization, Consumer Reports. 

As head of Consumer Reports, Tellado works to make the marketplace safe and fair for consumers.

“It is impossible to make the world perfect for consumers,” she writes. “But there is a lot we can do both on the societal level and from a personal standpoint to make our lives safer and the marketplace more responsive to our needs,” Tellado writes. “We can live in a digital world where the roving eye of surveillance is shut, where loan applications and credit scores are truly unbiased, where everyone can drink clean water and enjoy access to the internet, where the fine print on financial contracts is big enough to read and written in plain enough language to understand, where internet users don’t have to worry about intimate personal information being stolen, where government agencies have clear enforcement mandates to guarantee our food is safe, where laws place responsibility on manufacturers to ensure their products won’t injure users, where incentives encourage companies and trade associations to become partners in transparency, where victims of shoddy merchandise are no longer blamed, and where consumer-friendly car-safety experts have a voice throughout the process of a vehicle’s design.”

Consumer Reports is best known for rating products like cars and air conditioners. Its funding comes primarily from its six million members. Want to buy a car? Which one is safest and most reliable? Consumer Reports knows, because it buys its own products — about 2,000 products a year —  tests them and then reports the test results to its members.

And what happens to those 2,000 products once they are tested?

“We have a great tradition of auctioning off those products to our staff and their families,” Tellado told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. “That’s a time honored tradition at Consumer Reports.”

But Tellado doesn’t want Consumer Reports to be known just as a product testing organization.

“When I tell people that I’m a consumer advocate, they nod quaintly,” Tellado says. “I wait a few beats and then I get questions about products, quality and ratings. I rarely get questions about fairness, about bias in pricing, about trusting companies, about justice or the lack of it in the marketplace. Many people don’t realize those are issues that Consumer Reports works on. When I mention them on social media, I sometimes get a tweet back along the lines of ‘Why are you getting involved? Stick to cars and appliances.’”

“My feeling is we have to do both.”

Often, in testing products, Consumer Reports comes across egregious corporate wrongdoing.

Take the case of Fisher-Price’s Rock ‘n Play Sleeper. It was a thirty-degree angle sleeper that proved deadly for infants.

Less than a year after the Rock ‘n Play went on sale, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) set a standard for baby bassinets of ten degrees. Instead of recalling the thirty degree Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, Fisher Price asked the agency to create a new category for sleepers like the Rock ‘n Play. The CPSC complied. 

In 2011, the Australian government said the Rock ‘n Play couldn’t be sold in Australia because of asphyxiation danger. In the United States, doctors began to raise alarms.

Meanwhile, sales were booming on Amazon, where the Rock ‘n Play became a best-seller. As a result, deaths of infants climbed. The deaths were reported to the CPSC but were not made public.

Neither the company nor CPSC disclosed the number of deaths. Why? Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act. 

Tellado calls Section 6(b) “a license to kill.”

“Section 6(b) requires the CPSC to seek permission from a manufacturer before it publicly releases information about the company or its products, even when it’s warning about injuries or deaths,” Tellado says.

“Section 6(b) also allows companies to negotiate the language the agency uses in press releases in the event of a safety alert or product recall.”

“I think Section 6(b) is an abomination that allows defective products to continue to kill or injure consumers, as was the case with the Rock ‘n Play,” Tellado says. “Congress ought to toss Section 6(b) in the trash.”

In early 2019, a Consumer Reports team of researchers was combing over information they were given by the CPSC by mistake. The CPSC inadvertently released details of 29 babies’ deaths linked to the Rock ‘n Play sleeper.  The CPSC’s lawyers sent letters to Consumer Reports demanding that the data be destroyed and nothing be published based on it.

“They told us we couldn’t make that story public because they gave us that data by mistake,” Tellado told Corporate Crime Reporter.  “We said –  absolutely not, we are publishing this. Your job is to keep consumers safe. Why are we putting the company first here when we have lost so many infants?”

“We made the story public. And within 48 hours, the product was taken off the market. And then we had to fight to get it removed from the secondary market, like EBay and Craig’s List. We assumed these products had been tested and unfortunately they had not been tested.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Marta Tellado, see 34 Corporate Crime Reporter 42(14), print edition only.]

Copyright © Corporate Crime Reporter
In Print 48 Weeks A Year

Built on Notes Blog Core
Powered by WordPress