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Which? call for stronger regulation of online marketplaces

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Written by: Emma Lunn
21/11/2019
Amazon and eBay are failing to take basic steps to stop listing unsafe toys for sale, according to Which?

The consumer champion is calling on the next government to make online marketplaces legally responsible for stopping dangerous products from being sold.

Both Amazon and eBay claim to have dedicated teams and technological systems in place to monitor listings, but Which? found evidence of products listed for sale on both marketplaces that appear to have been flagged by Safety Gate, the EU’s rapid alert system for dangerous products.

Dangerous toys

Which? investigated toy products that had been registered as dangerous since 2017 by the EU’s Safety Gate system, which lists products that have either been recalled, withdrawn from sale or stopped at the border over safety concerns.

It presented eBay with 12 products – including toy slimes, a Transformers helmet and cartoon helicopter, which all appeared to bear significant similarities to dangerous products (such as a shared batch or product number) and which the consumer champion believed presented a risk to children.

The products were classified as unsafe for a range of reasons, including high levels of a toxic chemical, volume levels which could harm a child’s hearing, and small parts that can detach and cause a child to choke. eBay has now removed all 12 product listings.

It also approached Amazon with six products on the same basis. These included a magnetic building set, an inflatable swim ring and a remote control car. The products were flagged as a safety risk for reasons such as: a risk of intestinal blockage or perforation; high levels of a chemical that could cause liver damage; and excessive levels of lead. Amazon took five of the products off sale.

Call for new legislation

Which? was also able to demonstrate how easy it is to list unsafe toys and other items such as car seats.

The consumer group said its investigation emphasised how the safeguards on Amazon and eBay are far too weak to prevent the listing of items previously recalled on safety grounds.

Since 2016, Which? has uncovered hundreds of listings on online marketplaces for dangerous products that have either failed its testing or been recalled. However, online marketplaces are not currently responsible for ensuring that the products sold on their sites are safe, removing unsafe products from sale or notifying customers when something goes wrong.

Which? is calling for online marketplaces to be required to ensure that products offered for sale by sellers on their sites are safe. It wants the next government to apply the safety requirement in the General Product Safety Regulations, as well as other sector-specific product safety legislation.

The consumer champion is also calling for stronger and more consistent action when unsafe products are identified by enforcement agencies, and a new UK law that will require online marketplaces to make it clear to people they are buying from a trader, rather than another consumer.

Caroline Normand, Which? director of advocacy, said: “We’ve exposed how Amazon and eBay are failing to take basic steps to prevent dangerous products from appearing for sale on their sites, despite claims to have strong safety systems in place.

“It’s clear that consumer protections have not kept pace with the changes to the retail industry, and it is not acceptable for marketplaces to pass the buck for the responsibility of the items sold on their sites by simply pointing the finger at sellers.

“The next government must make marketplaces legally responsible for preventing unsafe products from being sold on their sites, establish clearer requirements for taking down dangerous products and ensure better enforcement is in place to keep consumers safe.”

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