CVS last week came under fire from a coalition of consumer advocates, led by the national labor federation Change to Win, who claim that the Woonsocket, R.I.-based pharmacy chain does not provide communities of color with equal access to its stores and to the same quality of products available elsewhere. (Photo courtesy of CVS Caremark Corp.)
|Among the charges Change to Win levels in its report: CVS often sells expired products in urban areas, frequently overcharges certain customers and locates fewer stores in communities of color than in predominantly white areas. (Photo courtesy of Change to Win)
Local community leaders took part last week in a nationwide consumer advocacy effort to voice serious concerns about the business practices of CVS Caremark Corp.
Chief among the problems are claims that the Woonsocket, R.I.-based drugstore chain doesn’t provide communities of color with equal access to its stores or to the same quality of products available in other areas.
In meetings and press conferences held across the country last Thursday, representatives from a coalition headed by labor federation Change to Win revealed the results of a 14-month investigation detailing the charges. They also say the investigation found that CVS employs questionable practices when it comes to overcharging certain customers and protection of consumers’ privacy.
“CVS under-serves communities of color,” said Faron McLurkin, a coordinator with Change to Win Boston. “It needs to be unbiased in its practices to all of [its] customers.”
Specifically, McLurkin pointed out the report’s finding that there are nearly three times as many stores per person, as well as more that are open 24 hours a day, in predominantly white neighborhoods than in communities of color.
McLurkin also called CVS “the most penalized retailer in the state,” noting that the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations has cited the chain for nearly 2,800 violations of state rules governing accurate pricing in the last two years alone, and fined the company to the tune of $275,000 for those infractions. In addition, the consumer advocates accused CVS of charging more for products in urban areas than national competitors like Walgreens and Rite Aid.
“It’s important that these communities have equal access and [are] treated with respect,” said Karen Payne, president of the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of several local groups joining Change to Win’s advocacy efforts. “CVS needs to become a responsible partner.”
For her part, Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said that she is concerned about the negative effects that a lack of access to stores and quality products can have on area immigrants.
“Immigrants are hurt when there are few stores in the community,” she said. “CVS needs to provide more stores in the community [with staff] who can speak more languages and hire more foreign-born citizens.”
CVS representatives did not return calls by the Banner requesting comment. Spokesman Michael DeAngelis told the Boston Globe last week that the charges of discrimination are false and outdated.
“CVS Caremark does not discriminate in our policies or store operations, or tolerate discrimination of any kind in our organization,” he said.
And when it comes to deciding where to locate stores, he said: “We don’t look at demographics, and we don’t look at income. We look at population density, and we look for real estate sites that are convenient and accessible for consumers.”
McLurkin and his supporters said they are most concerned about expired products they say they found on CVS shelves around the city. According to the report’s survey of 233 Greater Boston CVS stores, 55 were found to have expired infant formula on their shelves and 15 sold expired dairy products. The advocates say the sale of expired goods is still very much a problem: During last Thursday’s press conference, McLurkin showcased a number of expired items that he said he and his staff had purchased from CVS locations in the area just one day earlier.
The report also cites the chain’s dealings with questionable drug companies based in China and India. Drug manufacturer Perrigo, a maker of generic drugs that are imported from China by American pharmacies and then sold under store-brand names, recalled 11 million bottles of acetaminophen in 2006 for fear that they may have contained metal fragments.
In addition, advocates across the country have accused CVS of abusing customers’ private prescription records, charging that the chain has sold data to “health information companies” who then pass the information onto drug manufacturers. The report also states that CVS pays cash bonuses to its pharmacists based on how many prescriptions they fill.
McLurkin said last Thursday that his supporters had yet to talk to CVS representatives about their report. Russ Davis, executive director of Jobs with Justice, said the drug chain needs to take action and address these problems sooner rather than later.
“I think it is unfortunate that CVS has gone so wrong,” he said. “I think racial disparities need to be a priority in this country. We are putting CVS on notice.”