Industry bodies call for improved regulation of electricals sold on marketplaces

Dangerous goods are being sold on online marketplaces, and urgent legal reforms are needed in order to bring about change, consumer and industry bodies have warned. 

More than ten groups, including Electrical Safety First, the British Toy & Hobby Association, National Fire Chiefs’ Council and Which? have signed an open letter to the Government warning that inadequate legislation is putting consumers at risk.

The letter calls for an update to product safety laws to regulate the sale of dangerous goods sold via online marketplaces, and to make the marketplaces more responsible for the safety of products offered for sale on their platforms.

Gaps in the law mean that online marketplaces such as Amazon Marketplace and eBay are not currently recognised as responsible members of the the supply chain in the same way as high street stores, say the organisations. That means they have no responsibility for the safety of products sold via their platforms.

In a new joint investigation by Electrical Safety First and the British Toy & Hobby Association more seriously unsafe items were easily identified, for sale across Amazon Marketplace, eBay, and AliExpress, and findings accompanied the open letter. 

Those findings included hair dryers and hair straighteners advertised with illegal mains plugs that could cause electric shocks to the user. Childrens’ toys that were previously found to have failed to meet safety standards were also found to be for sale, with risks including easily accessed button cell batteries that are dangerous if swallowed. Power supplies for e-scooters and hoverboards were advertised with illegal mains plugs with no obvious facility for a fuse, posing a fire risk to the user. 

On contacting the online marketplaces all products flagged as part of the investigation were removed from sale.

The latest investigation and open letter come as online platforms offer discounts ahead of Christmas and just weeks after the Government published its response to the Product Safety Legislative Review.

Lesley Rudd, chief executive of charity Electrical Safety First, says: “It is time to close this dangerous gap in the law that allows online marketplaces to hold little to no responsibility for the safety of the products from which they profit. For too long consumers have been left to navigate online marketplaces with inadequate legal protection or confidence that what they are buying is safe. This Cyber Monday we are calling for urgent action by the Government to end this scandal once and for all.”

Sue Davies, Which? head of consumer protection policy, says: “People are being exposed every day to dangerous products on online marketplaces that have been sold without adequate safety checks or monitoring. The current regulatory framework is not fit for purpose and does not account for the massive shift to online shopping. To help address this, it is essential that online marketplaces are urgently given greater legal responsibility for the safety of all products sold on their sites.”

In response, an Amazon spokesperson says: “Safety is important to Amazon and we want customers to shop with confidence on our stores. We have proactive measures in place to prevent suspicious or non-compliant products from being listed and we monitor the products sold in our stores for product safety concerns. When appropriate, we remove a product from the store, reach out to sellers, manufacturers, and government agencies for additional information, or take other actions. If customers have concerns about an item they’ve purchased, we encourage them to contact our Customer Service directly so we can investigate and take appropriate action.”

An eBay spokesperson says: “We take the safety of our users very seriously and have removed the listings offering unsafe products identified by Electrical Safety First. We can also confirm that our security team has performed sweeps to identify and remove other listings offering such products, informed the relevant buyers and that appropriate action has been taken against the sellers. 

“We continue to work with authorities including Trading Standards and the Office for Product Safety and Standards to ensure sellers and listings on eBay comply with laws and regulations. We have filters in place which automatically block listings which are unsafe or do not comply with our policies. These filters have blocked millions of unsafe listings from making it onto site. And, as part of our ongoing commitment to consumer safety, eBay works directly with sellers to provide product safety education and prevent the sale of unsafe items on our marketplace.” 

An AliExpress spokesperson says: “We have removed the item identified by Electrical Safety First. We take very seriously the safety of all our customers and we work hard to ensure a safe shopping environment. AliExpress is a third-party online marketplace that enables merchants and buyers to connect directly with each other. We have strict platform rules that require all third-party sellers to comply with all applicable local laws and regulations.”

A spokesperson for Wish says: “Each of the items highlighted within this report have been removed from the platform as they clearly violate local laws, as well as certain safety standards.

“We remain committed to creating a safe and fun environment for users to shop online, and continue to deploy further measures to help prevent, detect, and remove unsafe items from the platform. Not only are we now signatories of the European Commission’s Product Safety Pledge, we also recently launched a Wish Standards program that measures our merchants against a defined set of criteria spanning product quality and refund rates, and rewards them with benefits such as commission discounts and greater exposure within the app.”

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15 Sep 2023

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