12th November 2018

Tackling product safety issues online

The OECD has launched a global campaign to promote safety for products sold online


By Amy Schofield
Freelance writer for JTS
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This rapid growth [of business-to-consumer e-commerce] brings consumer product safety risks and challenges, which the new campaign is designed to tackle.

This article was sponsored by the Office for Product Safety & Standards

The claims on the diet pill packs seem simple enough – take this tablet and the fat will simply melt away. To anyone desperate to lose weight, these diet pills, containing a chemical that burns fat, can seem like the answer to their prayers. But the active ingredient, 2, 4-Dinitrophenol (DNP), is in fact an industrial fat-burning chemical originally used as a fungicide and herbicide, that has now been linked to a number of deaths.

In July last year, a young woman in Worcestershire died after taking illegal diet pills that she bought online, where they are sold freely online as harmless ‘dietary aids’. She told paramedics that she had taken too many of the pills, but delays in treating her condition meant that she died at the age of just 21. There are many more similar tales of people who simply wanted to lose weight but instead lost their lives.

Regulations from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) are designed to protect patients and consumers buying medicines online. From 1 July 2015 anyone in the UK selling medicines to the public via a website must be registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and to be on the MHRA’s list of UK-registered online retail sellers. They must also display the EU common logo on every page of their website offering medicines for sale. Clicking on the logo takes customers to a list of approved sellers on the MHRA website.

Anyone who wants to buy medicines online can easily check that the website they’re using is legitimately registered in the UK. But although these regulations exist, consumers may not always be aware of them, meaning that websites continue to illegally sell potentially deadly drugs to people unaware of the danger they’re putting themselves in.


Watch the video: How to buy safely online


OECD online product safety campaign
This is where the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD’s) new safety campaign comes in. The OECD 2018 Global Awareness Campaign on the Safety of Products Sold Online is designed to protect consumers from the potential dangers of buying illegal products online from unregistered websites, helping to prevent needless deaths.

Business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce is growing rapidly; in the OECD area; more than half of individuals purchased goods online in 2016, up from 36% in 2010*. The OECD’s research found that the reasons for this growth lies in ‘the ease and convenience of setting up an online presence, easier consumer access to a wide range of goods and services at competitive prices, new business models enabling relying on new technologies, as well as growing use of mobile devices’. But this rapid growth brings consumer product safety risks and challenges, which the new campaign is designed to tackle.

The OECD campaign’s focus is on educating and informing consumers, online sellers and online platforms about:

  • Product safety risks and challenges in e-commerce
  • How to reduce and address these, and
  • Key product safety compliance requirements associated with trading online

The campaign sets out the responsibilities of online platforms and online sellers to consumers, and supports consumers in making safe choices when shopping for products online.

For online sellers:

  • Make sure you are selling safe products
  • Comply with product safety laws in any jurisdiction where you offer products
  • Share product safety information and concerns with consumers effectively and be responsive to both consumers and authorities

For online platforms:

  • Identify and remove unsafe products on your platform and make sure seller’s contact details are visible
  • Promote product safety compliance on your platform and work cooperatively with authorities

For consumers:

  • Check which products have been recalled, register products after purchase and speak up if you find a safety issue
  • Check information on who you’re buying from as well as ratings, reviews and product safety information.

CTSI and JTS, with the support of Safety & Standards are working with the OECD to raise awareness of this vitally important campaign and we will be publishing a video further exploring the dangers of online purchasing along with posters detailing the above advice.

Please help us to promote these messages online using the hashtag #SafeProductsOnline