Senators Want Answers About Listings for Unsafe Merchandise on Amazon.com

August 30, 2019

Excerpt: The senators called on Amazon to conduct a large-scale internal investigation of its enforcement and consumer safety policies and to institute changes to keep unsafe products off its platform.

Lawmakers call on Jeff Bezos to initiate investigation of company’s consumer safety policies following report of unsafe items sold on site

[Alexandra BerzonJustin Scheck and Shane Shifflett | August 29, 2019 | WSJ]

The letter, signed by Senate commerce committee members Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) and Ed Markey (D., Mass.), along with Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), detailed on Thursday the findings from an article The Wall Street Journal published last week and asked for a response from Mr. Bezos. The Journal reported that 4,152 items that had been for sale on Amazon.com had been declared unsafe by federal agencies, banned by Amazon or are deceptively labeled. Included in that were 2,000 listings for toys and medications that lacked warnings about health risks to children. An additional 4,510 balloons lacked required choking-hazard warning labels, the Journal found.

Amazon has modified or removed most of the listings of products identified by the Journal. However, after the company initially took down some of the identified products from its site, the Journal again found some of the same products for sale under new listings.

Asked to comment, a spokeswoman referred to a statement that the company posted online last week that reiterated its commitment to consumer safety and compliance, on which it said it spent $400 million last year.

It also said that safety is a priority for Amazon, outlined the tools and procedures it uses to protect consumers and said Amazon works with a variety of federal agencies and industry groups on safety issues.

Previously the company also told the Journal it takes action against “bad actors” that attempt to evade their system when products in violation of their policies slip through.

In their letter, the senators said: “Unquestionably, Amazon is falling short of its commitment to keeping safe those consumers who use its massive platform...We believe it is essential for consumers to fully understand the safety of products they bring into their homes.”

The Hidden Safety Risks of Your Amazon Order

The Hidden Safety Risks of Your Amazon Order

WSJ investigates how unsafe products, including children’s toys, have become available for purchase. Photo: John P. Campbell for The Wall Street Journal

The senators posed a series of questions to Mr. Bezos, to which they asked him to respond by Sept. 29.

Among the questions are why Amazon’s safety efforts failed and how the company will ensure it won’t sell items that have been recalled or declared unsafe by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission or other federal agencies.

Mr. Blumenthal on Friday tweeted: “Amazon’s failure to remove illegal, deadly & deceptive products from their site threatens consumer safety. They must prioritize safety over profits. Swift action must be taken to stop the sale of these dangerous products.”

The senators called on Amazon to conduct a large-scale internal investigation of its enforcement and consumer safety policies and to institute changes to keep unsafe products off its platform.

Mr. Blumenthal had sought signatures from other members of the Senate Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade and Consumer Protection, including Republicans, according to a spokesman.

The letter didn’t call on any governmental action to be taken regarding Amazon.

In an interview, Mr. Blumenthal said he would seek congressional hearings after hearing back from Mr. Bezos.

Mr. Blumenthal said that he was “shocked and stunned” by the reports of dangerous products sold on Amazon. He said he believed federal agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, should look into whether Amazon violated federal consumer-protection laws.

Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Rohit Chopra  separately raised that possibility. Mr. Chopra on Friday tweeted that the Journal’s article had raised “real concerns about whether Amazon is profiting from widespread deception on its platform. Deceptive acts or practices can threaten our health and safety, and are unlawful under the FTC Act.”

A spokesman for the FTC declined to comment on the commissioner’s statement. Mr. Chopra’s chief of staff declined to elaborate.

A spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said that when public reports find “recalled or violative products” for sale online, the agency is in contact with those companies to take those products down from their websites. He declined to give details on communication between the CPSC and Amazon.

Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Menendez earlier in the month sent Mr. Bezos a separate letter complaining that the company wasn’t being transparent over how products are selected to be sold under the Amazon’s Choice badge.

Many customers view Amazon’s Choice as something of an endorsement, but that designation is based on a combination of ratings, pricing and shipping time.

The Journal found that dozens of products that had been declared dangerous or mislabeled had that designation.

Write to Alexandra Berzon at alexandra.berzon@wsj.com and Justin Scheck at justin.scheck@wsj.com

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