International product safety week – Product safety risks in e-commerce

We all know how convenient it is to shop online (particularly today with the Black Friday sales!), but we often don’t think about the risks involved.  We can’t touch the product, we can’t see it with our own eyes, and sometimes we are uncertain as to the true identity of the seller.  Yet nine times out of ten, we probably still buy it!

Last week (12-16 November) was International Product Safety Week.  Australia’s national competition and consumer law regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) joined an international campaign lead by the OCED (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) emphasising the need for products to be bought and sold safely in the online marketplace.  This international campaign, which also involves the European Commission and 24 other countries, promotes awareness to suppliers and online retailers of the need to comply with product safety rules and regulations in foreign countries.  In an Australian context, this means that any foreign retailers operating online and selling products to Australian consumers must ensure that those products are permitted in Australia, and that they comply with Australia’s 42 mandatory safety standards, which can be found here.  Conversely, all Australian retailers selling products abroad should ensure that their products comply with the safety standards in those relevant jurisdictions.

Last year, in Australia alone, a total of $21.3 billion worth of products were purchased online (according to the ACCC), and the online industry continues to grow.  Consumers are becoming increasingly dependent upon the information available to them online, which can be risky in itself with an increase of fake online reviews and the sale of faulty counterfeit goods.  The Deputy Chair of the ACCC has recommended that consumers check ratings, reviews, read safety warnings and follow instructions to minimise harm from any risky products.  For retailers, they too must ensure that they are being proactive by implementing measures, such as sending of compliance alerts and information to sellers specifically based on Australian regulations, as well as implementing processes that allow for easy removal of listings of unsafe products.  Sellers should also ensure that they include safety information in their listings, labels and warnings.

Currently the ACCC is considering the establishment of a General Safety Provision, introducing a clear obligation on retailers to not sell unsafe products, bringing Australia in line with other international jurisdictions.  Watch this space for further updates!

Key Recommendations

For Platforms and Sellers:

  • Ensure all products are compliant with regulations for the relevant jurisdiction (i.e. where the product is being sold).
  • Remove any unsafe products from the platform and inform relevant authorities and consumers.
  • Information regarding safety regulations for each jurisdiction should be easily accessible and shared with sellers.
  • Set up a compliance certificate program.
  • Make the seller’s details clearly visible.

For Consumers:

  • Research reviews and ratings online from a reliable forum, not only in relation to the product but also the seller.
  • Ensure you read safety warnings and following instructions regarding the product.
  • If you are concerned about the product, refer to the Australian product safety website and the OECD Global Recalls Portal to see if the product has been recalled.

 

This blog was co-authored by Josephine Gardiner, Jessie Buchan and Melinda Upton