Proposed Bill comes as new investigation finds tens of thousands of units of potentially lethal electrical products could have been sold
A “game changing” new bill would see online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay legally responsible for preventing listings of potentially lethal electrical products in a seismic step to protect consumers.
The Bill, proposed by consumer safety charity Electrical Safety First, could see online giants bound by a clear legal obligation to prevent the sale of substandard electrical goods in a first of its kind following multiple investigations by the Charity identifying the sale of illegal products.
The Charity believes the law as it stands is far too ambiguous leaving online marketplaces outside the scope of responsibility for what is sold via its site.
The proposed Bill will clarify the role and responsibilities of online marketplaces and tighten the law in this area to ensure the responsibility for the sale of unsafe goods cannot lie with the third party seller alone.
The Bill, if backed by the Government and MPs, could also see sites such as Amazon and eBay forced to alert consumers who have purchased an electrical product via their sites which is found to be substandard.
At present marketplaces remove listings of products but have no obligation to contact consumers who have already purchased the product, leaving thousands potentially unaware of the risk a product in their home may pose.
Dangerous goods online:
A new investigation by Electrical Safety First has also unearthed yet more potentially deadly electrical goods for sale across Amazon Marketplace, eBay and Wish.com.
In a snapshot investigation the Charity has unearthed almost 70 listings of visually non-compliant electrical products for sale including hoverboard chargers, kettles, travel adaptors, hairdryers and extension leads.
During this investigation the Charity also monitored the number of units sold of each item where this information was publicly available. Of those items sold via eBay and Wish.com the Charity estimates that a minimum of around 22,000 potentially dangerous electrical products may have been sold from these listings alone. Amazon Marketplace does not inform consumers of how many units of a single product listing have been sold to date.
Products were analysed from the images used to advertise them and considered to be so obviously substandard that they are illegal for sale to UK consumers.
Serious defects discovered by the Charity’s Technical experts included hoverboard chargers, notorious for causing fires, fitted with illegal plugs that pose an electrocution risk to the user. These products were particularly prevalent on Amazon Marketplace whilst one even featured as the number one best seller during the time of the investigation.
Other safety flaws discovered included travel adaptors missing vital safety features designed to prevent the user coming into contact with the mains power supply. Some of these items sold over 2,000 units each, per listing.
Kitchen appliances including kettles were discovered being sold with EU plugs and offered with travel adapters for permanent use, posing a significant increase in electric shock and fire risk. Products sold to UK consumers are legally required to be fitted with an appropriate plug or fitted converter plug. In this instance this listing would be deemed illegal under product safety regulations. More than 140 units of this kettle were sold via eBays UK site.
Mother-of-two’s lucky escape:
40-year-old, mother-of-two, Rachel Kent from Rhuddlan, North Wales knows first hand the devastating impact an electrical fire can have after a fire believed to have been caused by a laptop charger purchased online broke out in her home:
“It was about 10.30am at night, I was at home in my kitchen about to take my two dogs for a walk. My laptop was on a hard table, charging for a few hours. I heard a very loud crackle and ‘bang’ from the laptop. Panicking, I fled into the garden, taking my dogs with me and looked in horror to see the laptop go ‘bang’ again and catch fire, spreading along the table.
I was terrified by what was happening and called 999 and North Wales FRS crews arrived incredibly quickly and extinguished the fire, saving many of my possessions despite some serious damage to the table and the wall. Luckily, my two kids were staying at their grandmother’s that night but if they’d been in the house at the time the fire would have been between them and myself which is absolutely horrible to think about. My pet dogs also had a lucky escape, being down in the kitchen with me at the time.
I was told it was the battery of the laptop that was at fault. I’d bought the replacement battery from Amazon through a third party seller after the original battery had died. The experience has taught me not to buy electrical products from online marketplaces again – I’ll be sticking to reputable retailers. I hope others will join me in signing Electrical Safety First’s petition to better regulate marketplaces so others don’t have to go through similar experiences with even worse consequences ”
Lesley Rudd, Chief Executive of Electrical Safety First commented: “It is long overdue that online marketplaces were made responsible for products sold via their own sites and our game changing Bill can finally achieve this. Quite rightly our high street retailers are bound by legal responsibilities and it is wrong that online marketplaces can operate outside of this framework. It is time to even the playing field to finally tackle the scourge of substandard goods we continue to find on sites such as Amazon, eBay and Wish. We urge the Government to adopt our Bill in order to protect millions of UK consumers and to hold online marketplaces to account.”
Electrical Safety First has also launched its own e-petition and is urging consumers to add their signature to show their support to change the law.
Members of the public can sign the petition by clicking here.
All marketplaces informed Electrical Safety First they had removed the listings flagged to them.
Right of replies:
A spokesperson for Wish said: “All of the merchants on our platform are required to adhere to local laws and safety standards wherever their goods are sold. In the rare instance where a product falls below those standards, and sufficient evidence is provided, we take the appropriate action to remove the items as swiftly as possible.
"We'd like to thank Electrical Safety First for bringing these items to our attention."
- Each listing features a simple report function whereby any user can report a listing if they suspect it may be unsafe. Our global safety team works around the clock to investigate every reported listing and takes necessary enforcement action against sellers, including account suspension.
- On this occasion, the listings were removed and action taken against the sellers.
- Between March 2019 and March 2020 our filters automatically blocked four million listings from entering the marketplace on product safety grounds.
Statement to be attributed to an eBay spokesperson:
“The safety of eBay users is our priority. These items do not comply with our safety standards and have been removed.”
An Amazon spokesperson said:
“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 team directly so we can investigate and take appropriate action.”
- All of the (26) identified listings have been removed pending investigation.
- We have contacted the customer directly and are investigating the issue.
Notes to editor:
- Electrical Safety First is a UK charity dedicated to reducing and preventing damage, injuries and death caused by electricity. More information can be found at electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk
- Images of the listings were analysed by the Charity’s technical team and the products deemed to be visually substandard and/or dangerous without the need for test purchasing
- Electrical Safety First contacted all marketplaces directly including; Amazon Marketplace, eBay.co.uk and Wish.com to inform them of the products discovered that were deemed to be substandard and/or dangerous and requested the listing be removed for sale as soon as possible.
- The Charity documented information related to either “sold” on eBay.co.uk related to each listing as well as “bought this” on to Wish.com to understand the number of products that may have been sold from each listing. Amazon Marketplace do not make figures on the number of units a product has sold publicly available.