The BTHA demands action on unsafe and counterfeit toys sold on online third-party marketplaces

Published on: 20th June 2019

With no clear legal requirements for online marketplace platforms to check the safety of products sold, the BTHA has called for changes in the law, after finding that 58% of toys selected for assessment proved illegal to sell in the UK.

The British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA), along with its members, has today launched a campaign calling for action from the government to ensure unsafe toys are removed from the market. The move comes after a study conducted across online platforms found that 58% of toys selected for assessment were non-compliant with toy safety regulations in the UK, and 22% of the total demonstrated serious safety issues.

The BTHA, which represents responsible toy makers across the UK, has been actively raising awareness that toys sold by third-party sellers on online marketplaces pose significant safety risks for the British public.

Natasha Crookes, director of communications for the BTHA, said: “The BTHA has been testing toys on online marketplaces and finding concerning levels of illegal and unsafe toys. We have been sharing the results with the platforms and regulators to call for change. We are concerned that unsafe and illegal products are not removed fast enough and that identical products remain on sale. There are gaps in the UK regulations which allow the sellers and the marketplaces to not be held to account, and for unsafe toys to continue to be available to UK consumers. We call on the Government to close that gap, before a child is seriously injured or killed by an unsafe toy.”

Members of the BTHA are committed to making legally compliant, good quality toys for children to play with. Toys is already one of the most highly regulated product categories in the UK, and across Europe, and regulations cover every element of the toy, from the physical properties of the toy design to the chemical composition of materials. Making toys to these demanding standards is a legal requirement every member of the BTHA is committed to undertake, but it does come at a considerable expense and there are unscrupulous sellers who are happy to undercut prices by making substandard and illegal toys.

These sellers have an avenue to market that was not available in years gone by. Online marketplaces are able to offer consumers a huge choice of products, many of them safe for sale. However, they also offer a global shop window to criminals selling illicit product, and our laws need to be adapted to ensure accountability for products available in a 21st century online marketplace.

Members of the BTHA reported concerns to the Association, stating that they believed there was an increasing number of unsafe toys reaching children in the UK through third-party sellers on online marketplaces. The BTHA has sample purchased 200 toys from the largest marketplaces and found 58% of those toys were illegal to sell in the UK, as they failed to comply with safety requirements, such as having incorrect labels and no address to trace the seller. Even more worryingly, of the 200 toys, 22% had serious safety failures which could cause serious injury or death to a child. Many of the toys have been sent for independent laboratory testing and the assessment results were verified by a panel of industry experts including expert representatives from suppliers, retailers, laboratories and trading standards. The BTHA has informed the various marketplaces, their Primary Authority Trading Standards Office (where they have one), the BTHA’s own Primary Authority Trading Standards Office and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS).

Some toys we highlighted were removed from sale, but not all – and identical products still remain on sale today. Since undertaking the testing of these toys, the BTHA has been trying to call for changes to be made as many of the sellers fall outside the jurisdiction of UK enforcement authorities. In addition, the online platforms do not have a clear role under the current UK product safety legislation, when it comes to the role they play in the supply chain, and what responsibility they have for checking the toys on their sites are safe or legal to sell in the UK. There are no clear legal requirements for the online marketplace platforms to check the safety of the products that are sold via their platform.

The BTHA is calling on government departments to take action to ensure only safe and legal toys are able to be sold in the UK. The actions we are calling for:

1. Immediately we call on the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, specifically the Office for Product Safety and Strategy to work with Trading Standards to ensure they have the resources to ensure the unsafe products we have identified are removed by the online platforms – from the sellers we have identified, but also from the many other sellers that continue to sell identical products.

2. We need Government to lead on defining and clarifying the role and expectations of online marketplaces within the scope of the existing regulations so they are accountable for checking the safety of the products they allow to be sold in the UK. Where necessary, this should be by way of legislative amendment.

3. In the long term we call on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office to widen the definition of ‘online harms’ in the Online Harms White Paper which is currently under consultation. The definition of ‘online harms’ should be widened to include harm from unsafe products sold online to ensure children are protected from the behaviour of unscrupulous individuals and companies that hide behind the names of big brand platforms.

Current issues are often caused by vendors being based overseas, outside the jurisdiction of UK enforcement bodies. This means it is more difficult to trace companies to action a recall of unsafe product or to take responsibility for the products they have sold in the UK, if a consumer needs to contact them. While we believe efforts should be made to ensure third-party sellers are held primarily accountable for the safety of the products they make available to UK consumers, we believe the online marketplaces must also be held accountable for the products sold on their platform and must help to remove them from the market where safety issues are identified – this should extend to the removal of identical lines being sold by other third-party sellers.

In addition, we call on the marketplaces to remove the illegal, counterfeited versions of our members products we found during the investigation and to make it easier for companies to remove these products from the platforms. Counterfeits are illegal copies that are not made to the same standards as the original toys and often have associated safety risks. All members have been informed of the copies found and are taking action to have them removed

Online marketplaces have disrupted the traditional retail market which has driven changes for consumers including convenience and choice. However, this cannot be at the detriment of safety and our laws need to be adapted to recognise that online marketplaces have established a new kind of international marketplace which requires more stringent regulatory oversight.

The full report is available on request or can be downloaded from the BTHA website here.


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