The European Parliament has proposed a series of measures to strengthen consumer protection and enhance product safety and sustainability.
MEPs addressed the issue of unsafe products, particularly those sold on online marketplaces. This includes products that contain dangerous chemicals, have unsafe software or pose other safety hazards.
MEPs want online platforms and marketplaces to take proactive measures to tackle misleading practices and demand that EU rules on product safety should be enforced robustly. They emphasise that compliance with product safety rules must be ensured, for products circulating in the EU and manufactured either in the EU or outside it, allowing a fair competition between companies and securing reliable product information for consumers.
Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune has asked the European Commission to focus on sellers not adhering to regulations at the European Commission. This comes as the EU is finalising plans for new legislation called the Digital Services Act (DSA), which will set guidelines for the new online landscape, including online platforms, to ensure a better, safer digital environment for users and companies throughout the EU.
One of the most significant developments in the last 20 years is the rise of online platforms such as online marketplaces, social media, app stores, price comparison websites as well as search engines.
MEP Clune said that having the requirement for platforms to act quickly and take down unsafe products and have an obligation to inform the consumer is really important. “In 2019, a record number of dangerous products were flagged by the Commission’s Rapid Alert System. This is a system that helps prevent or restrict the sale of dangerous items. Toys were the most notified product category, making up just under a third of all reports. Twenty-three percent of alerts concerned motor vehicles and eight per cent concerned electrical equipment," MEP Clune said.
“In addition to this, a recent study from a group of consumer organisations tested 250 electrical goods, toys, cosmetics and other products bought from online marketplaces such as Amazon, AliExpress, eBay and Wish. They selected the products based on possible risks and found that 66% of them fail EU safety laws, with possible consequences such as electric shock, fire or suffocation.
“In relation to products which do not meet EU safety measures, there is concern currently at the lack of regulation when it comes to buying online. At present, online platforms must remove the dangerous items once they become aware of them, but further consumer studies have shown that the same dangerous items can reappear a number of months or years later. There is a heightened focus right now on Christmas shopping and it is so important that shoppers are aware that some products on sale do not meet safety standards.
“In relation to the products we buy and sell within the European Union, they must be safe. There are existing product safety rules that need to be looked at and adapted where necessary to take account of the digital transformation. This might be in specific areas such as machinery or toys or a more general product safety laws. Consumers must be able to count on a high level of safety for all products and know that the authorities are effectively monitoring this," MEP Clune said.
The Digital Services Act will also aim at increasing cooperation between platforms and competent authorities, and between authorities in Member States to ensure effective enforcement and oversight.
The Commission is also preparing a proposal to revise the General Product Safety Directive, scheduled for mid-2021, to tackle the safety issues of products sold on online channels, inter alia through an update of the general legal framework and other elements that would further improve the safety of products sold online.
In 2021, a new regulation on products will come into force. This will ensure monitoring across borders in the EU for products that fall under EU harmonisation legislation. However, not all products come under this legislation. For example, a doll’s bed, as a toy, is covered by stricter rules than a child’s bed, which, as an item of furniture, is a so called non-harmonised product as it is a piece of furniture. In the Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee, there is a proposal that the rules should also cover non-harmonised products.
The European Commission will present the DSA package on December 2. Last week, MEPs approved two separate “legislative initiative” reports calling on the Commission to address and tackle current shortcomings in the online environment in the DSA package, including calls for stronger rules to tackle illegal content online, a safer internet for consumers and the protection of fundamental rights online.