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as dangerous since 2017 by the EU’s Safety Gate system, which lists products that have either been recalled, withdrawn from sale or stopped at the border over safety concerns.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

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