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Regulate Online Marketplaces, Demands Influential Report

Hong Kong traders may already be aware that it is becoming increasingly common for British society to buy toys through online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, AliExpress or Wish from third party sellers. However, a significant proportion of the toys sold through these platforms are, it is being claimed, dangerous to children's health. It is therefore felt to be necessary that safety checks are in place to ensure that toys sold online are safe for children to play with.3.jpg

Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys, adopted on 18 June 2009, was transposed into UK law by the Toys Safety Regulations 2011 (the "Regulations"). The purpose of these Regulations is to prohibit placing on the UK market toys that do not comply with certain safety requirements, such as a warning of any hazard or risk associated with the use of a particular toy. However, it is believed that the current Regulations do not impose any legal requirement for online marketplaces to check the safety of products advertised by third party sellers on their platforms. This lack of regulation is, it is argued, leading to a high number of unsafe and noncompliant toys being sold.

The British Toy and Hobby Association (the "BTHA") has published a report showing that the majority of toys from third party sellers sold in the UK through online marketplaces can choke, strangle, burn, poison and electrocute children. A total of 300 types of toys were analysed and the association concluded that 86% of those toys sold in the UK were illegal and 60% were unsafe for children to play with.

The report demonstrates that online marketplaces are allowing the sale of products from third party sellers that do not meet the safety standards set by the Regulations. Online marketplaces are therefore being asked to increase their liability and reassure UK consumers that toys sold through their platforms have passed safety checks and do not endanger children's health. In a Sky News press release, Amazon, eBay, AliExpress and Wish have expressed their commitment and declared that they will identify the dangerous toys mentioned in the report and take appropriate measures, including the withdrawal of all toys that do not meet safety standards. However, it is still argued that their commitment is not enough to stamp out the sale of unsafe toys on online platforms.

The main problem felt to exist is that most of the sellers who sell their products through online marketplaces are based outside the UK’s jurisdiction. Natasha Crookes, Director of Public Affairs for the BTHA, who is quoted by Sky News, notes that “It is not acceptable that unsafe and non-compliant toys are simply allowed to enter the UK market, putting children at risk of serious harm. We believe the government has to step in to legislate this wild-west of safety and we must see politicians from all sides of the House coming together to protect children as part of the UK review of the product safety framework in 2021”.

Sky News reports that the BTHA has launched a petition to the UK government calling for changes to regulations so that children could play without risk of injury or death. The petition aims to regulate online marketplaces to prevent third party sellers from selling unsafe toys to British consumers.

Under the current Regulations, it is held that online marketplaces are not considered retailers and therefore have no legal responsibility to ensure the safety of toys. Consequently, the aim of the petition is to increase the responsibility of online marketplaces by recognising them as economic operators within the scope of the Regulations. The new rules should, it is argued, strengthen the rights of consumers, allowing them to take legal action against online marketplaces where an unsafe toy has been purchased and then shift part of the liability to third party sellers. It is important, according to BTHA, that the UK government responds to this petition to avoid situations such as the one quoted by Sky News, in which a2yearold girl nearly died in the UK after swallowing magnets from a toy that looked like a piece of candy.

Those interested in signing the petition to regulate online marketplaces, preventing third parties from selling unsafe products, have been given until 4 April 2022 to do so.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the BTHA, some of the measures parents may wish to take when purchasing toys for their children include checking that toys are accredited with symbols such as CE or UKCA; checking that they respect age restrictions and buy toys appropriate to the age of the child; and checking that the labelling has warnings such as "toy not suitable for babies".

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