Dangerous toy story: Study finds unsafe items for sale at online marketplaces

According to the study, 76 percent of supposedly safe toys were outright dangerous | invizbk/iStock

The toy industry has a message for Amazon, Alibaba, eBay and Wish: Stop playing with children’s safety.

According to a study out Wednesday by the trade association Toy Industries of Europe (TIE), a whopping 97 percent of 193 toys bought through those online marketplaces did not meet the EU’s toy safety rules, and 76 percent of supposedly safe toys were outright dangerous. 

The study, conducted in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, found bath toys containing dangerous chemicals, teddy bears with sharp metal, and rattles with small detachable parts widely available online. In most cases it was also impossible to hold anyone accountable; 83 percent of toys bought did not have information on sellers. 

And TIE, a toy lobby that could benefit from rule changes, wants EU law to fix it.

“What’s important is that online marketplaces are recognized as having a role in the supply chain. Everybody else has a responsibility except for platforms,” said TIE’s director general, Catherine Van Reeth. 

TIE joins a chorus of voices, including brand owners and consumer organizations, pressuring the European Commission to impose more obligations on e-commerce companies. 

The Commission has a number of options for doing so: It could revise the product safety directive or impose requirements via the Digital Services Act, a set of rules on how online platforms deal with illegal content and products that’s due to be presented by the end of the year.

The new legislation will define “due process obligations” for digital services including online marketplaces through which products come onto the EU market, Werner Stengg, a member of Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager’s cabinet, said at a webinar this week. 

The TIE findings are in line with another study released earlier this year, carried out by European consumer organizations, which found that two-thirds of tested items bought online failed the EU’s product safety rules. 

The toy lobby expects EU legislation to require platforms to screen third-party sellers; to react when illegal products are spotted and ensure they don’t reappear (so-called take-down and stay-down obligations); and to take proactive action to ensure dangerous toys are not put up for sale in Europe, said Lars Vogt, TIE’s senior policy officer who was also project manager for the report. 

According to TIE, Amazon was the only online platform that flagged suspect toys to national market surveillance authorities. Although all platforms apart from Wish took down the dangerous toys once notified, seemingly identical listings soon reappeared. AliExpress and eBay also did not inform consumers they had bought unsafe or illegal toys. 

Alibaba, Amazon and eBay have signed the European Commission’s product safety pledge, in which they commit to taking extra measures. According to TIE’s study, they did not perform any better than Wish, a Chinese e-commerce platform that is not part of the pledge. 

All four online marketplaces targeted by the report defended their practices. 

Both Amazon and Alibaba said they have proactive measures in place to prevent suspicious products going on sale. Wish said sellers on its platforms are required to comply with local laws and safety standards. eBay said it could not comment on a report it had not seen, but insisted the company always investigates reported listings and said that between March 2019 and March 2020, the platform’s security filters automatically blocked 4 million listings on product safety grounds.

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