Amazon and eBay are failing to take basic steps to stop listing toys for sale that appear to have been declared unsafe by the EU’s safety alert system, according to a Which? investigation.
The consumer champion is now calling on the next government to make online marketplaces legally responsible for stopping dangerous products from being sold.
Despite both marketplaces claiming to have dedicated teams and technological systems in place to monitor listings, Which? found evidence of products listed for sale on Amazon Marketplace and eBay that appear to have already been flagged by Safety Gate, the EU’s rapid alert system for dangerous products.
In its latest research, 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registered as dangerous since 2017 by the EU’s Safety Gate system, which lists products that have either been recalled, withdrawn from sale or stopped at the border over safety concerns.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 which could damage reproductive systems, 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 – with the products being 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. It did not comment on a toy dinosaur product that Which? found for sale on Amazon.com, rather than Amazon.co.uk, which had the same model number as a dangerous toy which was flagged for containing too much lead. This is despite the site offering to ship the product to the UK.
A Which? investigator was also able to demonstrate just how easy it is to list an unsafe toy acting as a seller on Amazon Marketplace. In a matter of minutes they were able to list a squishy toy – a product that had already been recalled in October 2018 because it posed a risk of choking or suffocation. The information provided for the listing included the barcode number of the product listed on the recall database, and even used the same image.
Despite these easily identifiable details, the product remained live on Amazon for two weeks before Which? removed the listing. The investigator was also able to list a fabric car seat, which is illegal in the UK, by duplicating a listing from another qualified Amazon seller. The site did not ask for proof of compliance.
The revelations emphasise how the safeguards on these sites are far too weak to prevent the listing of items previously recalled on safety grounds. With nine in 10 people having bought consumer goods from online marketplaces, Which? is now calling for much more robust measures to ensure people are not put at risk.
Since 2016, Which? has uncovered hundreds of listings on online marketplaces for dangerous products that have either failed its testing or been recalled. These include useless smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, dodgy electrical charging appliances and toxic toy slimes. Many of these were found on Amazon and eBay, but have also been identified on AliExpress and Wish.com.
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. Although some do conduct voluntary checks, these vary across the marketplaces, and as Which? research has repeatedly demonstrated, are inadequate.
In a new report – out today – Which? is calling for online marketplaces to be required to ensure that products offered for sale by sellers on their sites are safe – a view supported by seven in 10 marketplace users.
Which? wants the next government to apply the safety requirement in the General Product Safety Regulations, as well as other sector-specific product safety legislation – for products such as toys – to marketplaces. This means the sites will have to enhance their checks before including sellers on their sites.
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.
Online marketplaces must also be more effectively policed, and Which? is calling for the next government to transform the Office for Product Safety and Standards into an independent product safety regulator, and ensure that it is effectively resourced to take the lead on holding online marketplaces to account on product safety.
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.”
Notes to editors
- The Safety Gate rapid alert system enables quick exchange of information between 31 EU/EEA member states and the European Commission about dangerous non-food products posing a risk to health and safety of consumers. Flagged products can be listed by product category and year. It’s open access and publicly searchable.Which? checked toy listings since 2017. Not all products listed on Safety Gate will have necessarily have been listed for sale on Amazon or eBay. Items were cross checked if they contained a barcode/serial number, product/model number, packaging or branding.
- eBay said: “Sellers aren’t permitted to list dangerous products on eBay, or items that have been recalled. The listings flagged have been removed and we have requested that sellers contact customers with a safety notice and their refunds policy.It also stated: “We proactively enforce our Product Safety Policy using block filter algorithms to prevent unsafe products from being listed. In addition, our security team continuously patrols our marketplaces and will remove items and take appropriate action against sellers who breach our policies.”
- Amazon said: “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action including potential removal of their account. The products in question are no longer available.”It also said its first objective is to block suspicious, unsafe, or noncompliant products from being listed. It told us that it uses proprietary technology to screen partners and block suspicious businesses, as well as to check product listings, and has teams of compliance experts that conduct manual checks.
- Amazon – Product safety and compliance in our store
- Populus, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 2104 UK adults online about online marketplaces between 25th and 2nd September 2019.
- A copy of ‘Online marketplaces and product safety’ is available on request. This link will go live at 00:01am Wednesday: https://www.which.co.uk/onlinemarketplaces
- The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 require all products to be safe in their normal or “reasonably foreseeable” usage and enforcement authorities have powers to take appropriate action when this obligation isn’t met.It applies to producers, importers and distributors – including retailers, but not online marketplaces.
It is Which?’s view that the safety requirement in the GPSR should apply to online marketplaces, meaning that they should enhance their checks before including sellers on their sites, so that evidence of compliance with safety requirements is a condition of their listing as well as ensuring that products and their manufacturer are clearly identifiable.
There are also specific regulations for some product sectors, setting out essential safety requirements. Where there’s crossover with the GPSR, the product-specific legislation usually takes precedence.
- The report’s findings are a key part of Which?’s Consumer Agenda for Government, which can be found here: https://www.which.co.uk/policy/consumers/5198/consumeragenda
- Video available on request
- Product listings removed
|Listing||Risk of product with same characteristics according to Safety Gate|
|Gooband GooGoo Neon Slime Goo Kids Toy||The levels of boron are too high and may harm the health of children by damaging the reproductive system.|
|Transformers The Last Knight Optimus Prime Voice Changer Helmet for 6 Years||The sound pressure level of the helmet’s speakers is too high and could cause damage to hearing.
|Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, Solar Wind, Cosmic Thinking Putty||The LED device supplied with the putty emits optical radiation, exceeding 0.0079 mW. As a consequence, the child’s retina could suffer damage of sight.|
|Dinosaur Poo Brown Yucky Glitter Slime Putty Squishy Tub Kids Boys Party||The levels of boron are too high and may harm the health of children by damaging the reproductive system.|
|Supermag Magnetic Genius Adventure Swan Construction Plastwood 0311||The magnets in the toy have a high magnetic flux. If two or more magnets are swallowed, they could attract one another and cause intestinal perforation or blockage.|
|Teamsterz Slime Pot with Mystery Car, Toys & Games||The levels of boron are too high and may harm the health of children by damaging the reproductive system.|
|Baby Toys Infant Crawl Ladybug Toys Electric Toy Ladybug with Music & Light||Small parts can easily detach from the toy.
A small child may put them in the mouth and choke.
|Toys Cartoon Helicopter with Flashing Lights and Music Sound Toddler||Small parts can easily detach from the toy. Small children may put them in the mouth and choke.|
|Wltoys 12428 1:12 2.4G 4WD Electric Off-road Climbing Crawler RC UK||The tyres of the toy car contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in concentrations of up to 75 mg/kg. These PAHs are carcinogenic. A child could be exposed to them if the tyres come into direct and prolonged or repetitive contact with the skin or the mouth.|
|Children’s Swim Ring – Children’s Big Airplane Swim Ring With Steering Wheel Y7C9||The plastic material of the product contains an excessive amount of bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and di-‘isononyl’ phthalate (DINP). These phthalates may harm the health of children, causing possible damage to their reproductive system and liver.|
|Children’s Light Sound Toys Tip Lorry Happy||Small parts (bee’s antenna, wheels’ tyres) can easily be detached from the toy.
A child may put the small part in the mouth and choke.
|Electric Drill Kids 5pc Toy Set Pretend Play Builder||Four solders in the toy contain an excessive amount of lead and cadmium. Lead and cadmium pose a risk to the environment.|
|Listing||Risk of product with same characteristics according to Safety Gate|
|Magnetic Sticks Set Strong Colorful Magnit Game Toys Creative Ball Magnet Construction Building Toys For Boys Kids Educational Toy Set Gift||The product contains magnets with a high magnetic flux.
If a child swallows the small magnet and other metallic objects, they could attract one another causing intestinal blockage or perforation
|HOTPINK1 Inflatable Swimming Ring – Airplane shape Baby Float Seat Toddler||The plastic material of the product contains an excessive amount of bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and di-‘isononyl’ phthalate (DINP). These phthalates may harm the health of children, causing possible damage to their reproductive system and liver.|
|FunkyBuys® Deluxe Junior Tool Set||Four solders in the toy contain an excessive amount of lead and cadmium. Lead and cadmium pose a risk to the environment.|
|Baoli Baby Musical Pop Hand Drum Toy with Music and Light||Four solders in the toy contain an excessive amount of lead and cadmium. Lead and cadmium pose a risk to the environment|
|Big Sales Calvinbi Upgraded 540 Brush Motor High Speed 70km/h Newest 2.4 GHz Remote Control Car 1/18 Scale Off Road RC Trucks Racing Toy||The tyres of the toy car contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in concentrations of up to 75 mg/kg. These PAHs are carcinogenic. A child could be exposed to them if the tyres come into direct and prolonged or repetitive contact with the skin or the mouth.|