23 May 2023

Inquiry begins into unsafe goods ‘flooding’ online marketplaces

23 May 2023

A parliamentary inquiry has begun into unsafe goods “flooding” the UK’s supply chains and online marketplaces following widespread concerns for consumers.

The inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Consumer Protection and the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) follows a series of investigations that have exposed significant concerns around the safety and standard of goods available through many of the UK’s leading online marketplaces.

Trading Standards said its experts were “deeply concerned” about the volume of everyday items such as electric fans and battery chargers that pose a risk of exploding when in use, small electrical items that pose a risk of electrocution, potentially deadly toys that do not meet UK standards, and cosmetics that contain illegal levels of substances than can cause chemical burns and blindness.

Many of the UK’s leading charities, consumer protection bodies and business groups will be giving evidence to the inquiry, including Which?, Electrical Safety First, The British Toy and Hobby Association, HMRC and the Office for Product Safety and Standards.

CTSI chief executive John Herriman said: “Online marketplaces have revolutionised shopping habits for UK consumers, with the click of a button consumers can order goods to arrive at their homes the very next day.

“However, the legislation protecting consumers has not kept pace with these changes and while the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill may address some of these concerns, we want to fully understand nationally what many local Trading Standards teams are reporting locally.

“There is currently a vacuum when it comes to laws that third-party sellers need to adhere to when listing items for sale on online marketplaces.

“There are also concerns that imported goods are not meeting the standards for the UK market – vapes being a recent example of this.

“Part of this national inquiry will be looking at what needs to happen to protect consumers and ensure our supply chains are robust.”

Mr Herriman added: “Although Trading Standards is doing its utmost to protect the public from unsafe goods, we remain concerned about the increased levels of risk from the flooding of unsafe goods on UK marketplaces, and the potential for this to deteriorate further if resources are not increased to carry out adequate checks at our ports and borders to intercept these dangerous good at the point of entry.”

Yvonne Fovargue, chairwoman of the APPG on Consumer Protection, said: “Online scams have become increasingly sophisticated and hard to spot while the cost-of-living crisis has made customers ever more susceptible to being taken for a ride.

“It’s a dangerous combination that calls for a fresh approach to consumer protection. I am confident that our inquiry will help in that search.”

Lesley Rudd, chief executive of Electrical Safety First, said: “Businesses that diligently comply with product safety laws are unfairly disadvantaged compared to online marketplaces, with consumers being exposed to serious harm in the process.

“Big tech giants operating online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon profit from operating with fewer regulations, eroding fair competition and allowing the sale of unsafe goods to continue unabated.

“It’s been 15 long months since the Government promised the eagerly awaited Product Safety Review, which is expected to include proposals to protect British consumers when they shop online. The time for waiting is over – the Review must be published without further hesitation.”

Sue Davies, Which? head of consumer protection policy, said: “The UK’s product safety system is not fit for purpose and we’ve repeatedly found dangerous products being sold on online marketplaces which could endanger the lives of people buying them.

“The Government must give online marketplaces greater legal responsibility for preventing unsafe products being sold on their platforms and quickly removing them when they are reported.

“This should be a key change urgently implemented from the OPSS’ long overdue product safety review.”

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