Environmental and industry organisations urge European Parliament to crack down on online marketplaces

A broad alliance of environmental and industry organisations have written an open letter to the European Parliament, urging it to hold online marketplaces responsible for illegal and dangerous imports.

Online marketplaces, such as Amazon and AliExpress, have experienced a growth in sales as a result of the pandemic. Products sold via these retail platforms are often non-compliant with the law and pose significant risks to consumer health and the environment.

A forklift quickly moving through a warehouseProblematic vendors are typically located outside of the EU, making it difficult to take legal action in the event that the rights of consumers, competitors, or the environment are infringed.

The European Parliament is currently drafting legislative proposals regulating digital markets and product safety, set to come into force today (July 16).

In their letter, the consortium states: "Digital markets have to stop being the gateway for fake products or such that are unsafe, potentially life threatening or environmentally damaging.

“That’s why we urge the European Parliament to make Amazon, AliExpress and other online marketplaces responsible for the products offered on their websites, if there is no other actor in the EU who is responsible.

“They must compensate for the damage caused by products offered on their platforms, when no one else does.”

The open letter was signed by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS), Zero Waste Europe, the European Waste Management Association (FEAD), Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), Deutscher Naturschutzring (DNR), Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), Bundesverband der Deutschen Entsorgungs-, Wasser- und Rohstoffwirtschaft (BDE) as well as the Dirk Rossmann GmbH.

The alliance additionally demands that online marketplaces and fulfilment service providers must be subject to comprehensive due diligence obligations for products sold on the platforms. This includes, for example, checking that manufacturer, distributor, and collector obligations are met.

The open letter also highlights the need for online marketplaces to provide the full contact information of the selling company in the EU that will be liable to consumers.

In the case of products subject to extended producer responsibility, such as electrical appliances, batteries, and packaging, the manufacturer’s registration number should be provided to ensure consumers feel secure in the knowledge that they are buying legal and safe products.

Counterfeits, as well as products that do not comply with EU legislation, such as electronic appliances, children’s toys, cosmetics, or car parts, pose a major safety risk and are potentially life-threatening.

In particular, batteries, electrical appliances, and packaging offered on online markets regularly fail to comply with legal requirements for take-back, registration, or environmentally sound disposal.

As a result, sellers avoid paying for disposal fees, jeopardize the financing of existing disposal schemes, and increase costs for companies complying with EU obligations.

Products sold on online marketplaces are also often low in quality, with safety flaws or high levels of harmful substances.

The new EU Market Surveillance Regulation, which enters into force today (July 16), as well as the European Commission’s proposals for the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act, and the Regulation on General Product Safety, are expected to improve consumer protection, transparency, and fair competition.

However, the alliance points out that these aspects fall short in the case of online marketplaces and fulfilment service providers facilitating illegal imports in the EU, as they only take a ‘notice and action’ approach.

As a consequence, online marketplaces and fulfilment service providers only have to act on request, not on their own initiative, in order to stop non-compliant products from entering the EU.

Considering the size of online marketplaces, the alliance finds this surveillance concept to be insufficient, as national market surveillance authorities are limited in terms of their options for action, technical equipment, and staff.