Learning From Other Channels: What Not To Do

A new report by a consortium of union groups is accusing CVS Caremark Corporation of discriminatory practices in its choice of store locations, services and theft prevention.

CVS came under fire late last week when civil rights groups reacted to the results of an investigation by the group Change To Win (CtW), a partnership of seven unions founded in 2005 to represent workers in various industries and occupations. The organization has more than 6 million members.

CtW put its focus on the drug store chain for what it said is CVS’s failure to provide equal and fair access to its stores and services, as well as evidence of questionable product quality control, overcharging, lax privacy protection and consumer safety issues at stores.

The report, titled “Cure CVS: From high prices to low quality, CVS is failing our communities,” is the result of CtW’s 14-month investigation of CVS’s retail operations, including surveying stores in many of CVS’s largest markets.

CtW accused CVS of failing to provide equal access to stores in the metropolitan New York area, where, according to CtW, CVS locates four times as many stores per person in white neighborhoods than in areas where minorities are the primary residents.

Additionally, CtW said there are 60% more CVS stores per person in majority white Greater Los Angeles communities than in areas that have mostly minority residents.

CtW also said CVS operates four times as many stores per person in the wealthiest areas of metro New York – where the median household income is over $80,000 annually – as compared to the least wealthy areas, where the median household income is under $40,000 annually.

And CtW said there are twice as many CVS stores per person in the wealthiest areas of Greater Los Angeles as there are in the least wealthy. In contrast, Walgreens and Rite Aid actually locate more stores per person in less affluent areas across the country.

CVS is more likely to allocate time- and money-saving conveniences like 24-hour stores and in-store medical clinics to white neighborhoods and higher-income communities, CtW said.

“CVS’s discriminatory practices are hurting our communities,” Hazel Dukes, NAACP New York state chapter president said last week at a demonstration held outside a CVS store on 42nd Street in Manhattan’s Times Square. “CVS is failing to provide minorities with equal access to medicine and community-based medical services here in New York and across the country.”

“CVS is treating us unequally,” Rev. Eric Lee, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles said at a demonstration outside a CVS pharmacy in South Los Angeles last week. “CVS says they are ‘for all the ways you care’ but what the study shows is that CVS does not care about people of color.”

CtW also said CVS stores in minority and lower-income communities were more likely to be unsanitary and violate local food and safety regulations, while store inspections in those markets “were more likely to reveal evidence of vermin.” The organization also said that CVS sells expired products at some New York city and Grater Los Angeles stores.

Citing its own findings, CtW said a survey of New York City CVS stores found expired infant formula at 18 stores, or 23% of stores surveyed. A survey of Greater Los Angeles CVS stores found expired infant formula at 106 stores (37% of visited CVS stores stocking infant formula in unlocked displays) and expired dairy products at 36 stores (12% of visited CVS stores stocking milk and eggs).

In June 2008, the Attorneys General of both New York and California demanded that CVS stop offering expired infant formula, milk and medications for sale. The entire report is available at www.CureCVSNow.org.

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