We must end the unregulated selling of electrical goods online
Selling electrical goods online cannot be a free pass on contributing to safety, writes Carolyn Harris MP.
The issue of unsafe electrical goods finds its way into headlines with alarming regularity, to such an extent that we seem a little inured to the truly terrible impact that such goods can have. This was driven home to me following the tragic death in my constituency of Linda Merron, who died in a house fire after buying an electrical product on eBay.
Since that time, I have been campaigning to change dramatically the ways in which eBay, Amazon Marketplace, Ali Baba, Facebook and others allow the sale of unsafe electrical goods directly to the public – on their platforms. It’s why I set up the All Party Parliamentary Group on Home Electrical Safety, and it’s why I’m bringing the issue to Parliament in a Westminster Hall Debate today.
Right now, the internet is a virtually unregulated free for all when it comes to the sale of electrical goods, be they fake, unsafe, second hand or recalled. We first flagged this issue in the APPG report “The Problem with online sales of electrical products”, produced in consultation with Electrical Safety First, CTSI, ACG, the Local Government Association, London Fire Brigade and others.
Crucially, however, almost every online retailer we approached to take part in our work refused. Amazon, Ali Baba, Wish.com, Facebook and many more stonewalled the committee, with only eBay engaging with our work.
And time and time again, the excuses from these online behemoths would be as absurd as they were predictable. Amazon, for example, once told me in a meeting that they were “just a landlord”, attempting to wash their hands of all responsibility with this shrug of the shoulders.
It’s why we need action now – just like we saw recently with the Whirlpool scandal. And the Whirlpool example is a good benchmark. The Government has clearly said that it takes the issues of consumer safety very seriously, taking unprecedented action on unsafe tumble dryers.
So when is the Government going to take action against Amazon, Ebay, Facebook etc. who are daily allowing their sellers to sell unsafe, recalled, fake and non-compliant electrical goods to the public?
We need action, and we need it fast. A good starting point would be the five APPG report recommendations.
Firstly, legislation should be introduced to ensure online market places take responsibility for what is being sold on their sites. We also need a legal responsibility on online marketplaces to remove counterfeit and unsafe products as soon as possible and cooperate fully with enforcement agencies.
And that’s why we need point two - enforcement agencies not only with sufficient powers, but the resources to properly use them.
The third pillar is a need for improved co-operation and information sharing between different tiers of enforcement and with the online marketplaces, ending the dodges and loopholes that allow sellers to slip through the cracks.
Also, as online marketplaces benefit from the UK’s product safety regime, they should contribute towards its operation, similar to other industries. Online cannot be a free pass on contributing to safety.
And lastly, we need a revolution in consumer education, led by government, and backed with real cash to tell people that if something looks too good to be true, it most likely is.
Behind every terrifying news story about a faulty charger, dodgy vape machine or counterfeit power-bank is a person, a family and a community. We owe it to them to get the change we need, deliver the protections they deserve, and finally make the online retail giants take responsibility as happily as they take consumers’ cash.
Carolyn Harris is Labour MP for Swansea East.