Menendez, Blumenthal, Markey Call on Amazon to Pull Dangerous and Deadly Products From its Platform

Menendez, Blumenthal, Markey Call on Amazon to Pull Dangerous and Deadly Products From its Platform

WSJ recently found more than 4,000 products for sale on Amazon that are unsafe, banned and many labeled “Amazon Choice” Earlier this month, Menendez and Blumenthal wrote Amazon CEO about “Amazon’s Choice” badge and whether it deceives consumers into purchasing products of inferior quality.

   

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following a damning investigative report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that found Amazon’s inadequate monitoring of third-party retailers has resulted in at least 4,152 products for sale that “have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators,” U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) wrote Amazon CEO and Chairman Jeff Bezos to demand Amazon “take swift action to provide accurate warnings that protect consumers against these dangerous and deadly products and to stop their wrongful sale.”

Third-party sales account for nearly 60 percent of Amazon’s total retail business, according to the company. However, the Wall Street Journal’s investigation revealed that Amazon fails to adequately police these retailers or their product listings.

“Unquestionably, Amazon is falling short of its commitment to keeping safe those consumers who use its massive platform,” wrote the senators. “We call on you to immediately remove from the platform all the problematic products examined in the recent WSJ report; explain how you are going about this process; conduct a sweeping internal investigation of your enforcement and consumer safety policies; and institute changes that will continue to keep unsafe products off your platform.”

In addition to the 4,152 unsafe, deceptively labeled or banned products, the WSJ report raises numerous other concerns about Amazon’s product listings. For example, the WSJ analyzed an additional 3,644 toy listings for mandated choking-hazard warnings and found that 64 percent of Amazon listings lacked the proper warnings, when compared to listings for the exact same product on Target.com.

Amazon repeatedly took down or altered product listings in response to inquiries from the Wall Street Journal.

Reacting to negative press is not an adequate or acceptable commitment to consumer protection,” wrote the senators.

In their letter, the senators also highlighted that “many of the faulty products tested by The Wall Street Journal were shipped from Amazon warehouses and labeled as “Amazon’s Choice” — a seeming endorsement of the products.”

Earlier this month, Sens. Menendez and Blumenthal wrote Bezos about their concerns with “Amazon’s Choice” badge and whether it deceives consumers into purchasing products of inferior quality.

The full text of today’s letter is copied below and available here.

Dear Mr. Bezos:

We write to you with grave concerns regarding Amazon’s failure to remove from its platform illegal, deadly, and deceptive products, and to provide required visible warnings on products sold on your platform. We urge you to take swift action to provide accurate warnings that protect consumers against these dangerous and deadly products and to stop their wrongful sale.

On August 23, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) released a damning investigative report highlighting Amazon’s reluctance to adequately police third-party retailers and the products they sell on the platform. The investigation found 4,152 products for sale that “have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators.”[1] The report also shares the traumatic story of a family whose life Amazon’s negligence changed forever.

Specifically, in 2014, 23-year-old Albert Stokes tragically died in a motorcycle crash when his helmet came off. The helmet was purchased on Amazon and labeled as U.S. Transportation Department certified. However, this product was not compliant with federal safety standards and had been recalled. While the WSJ report indicates that the helmet in question has since been removed from the site, many products with similarly inadequate labeling or other dangerous features remain pervasive on Amazon’s platform. Reacting to negative press is not an adequate or acceptable commitment to consumer protection.

In addition to defective helmets, the WSJ investigation identified myriad problematic items for sale on the platform, including toys and cosmetics incorrectly labeled as FDA-approved; unregistered pesticides; toxic paint strippers; pain relievers lacking appropriate FDA warning labels; infant sleeping mats linked to suffocation; dietary supplements containing illegal prescription drugs; electronics deceptively labeled as third-party certified; and thousands of children’s products lacking federally mandated choking-hazard labels, as well as toys containing lead at levels that violate federal limits.

Even when Amazon has banned products, its monitoring appears to be inadequate. In certain instances, although Amazon has claimed it has banned many of these unsafe products, they still remain widely and easily accessible on the platform. In one particularly egregious example, in 2012, Amazon reportedly restricted the sale of powerful magnetic balls and cubes that the Consumer Product Safety Commission deemed a “substantial product hazard.” When more than one magnet is swallowed, they can snap together rupturing a child’s digestive organs.[2] However, the WSJ report found for sale on your platform 80 different listings of these magnets that should not be available.  

As you know, it is illegal to sell recalled items under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008,[3] and violators can face civil penalties up to $15 million.[4] We acknowledge that it is individual retailers’ responsibility to ensure that the products they sell are legal. But many of the faulty products tested by the WSJ were shipped from Amazon warehouses and labeled as “Amazon’s Choice” — a seeming endorsement of the products.

Unquestionably, Amazon is falling short of its commitment to keeping safe those consumers who use its massive platform. We call on you to immediately remove from the platform all the problematic products examined in the recent WSJ report; explain how you are going about this process; conduct a sweeping internal investigation of your enforcement and consumer safety policies; and institute changes that will continue to keep unsafe products off your platform.

We believe it is essential for consumers to fully understand the safety of the products they bring into their homes. In order to provide the public with key information on these concerning reports, we request answers to the following questions:

  1. Why have your current safety efforts failed to prevent the sale of mislabeled, recalled, and other unsafe products?
  2. How will you now ensure that you will not sell recalled products or other products deemed unsafe by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Protection Safety Commission, or any other federal agency?
  3. How will you identify all products that should include required choke hazard and other warning labels, for example, balloons?
  4. How will you ensure that all such identified products will include accurate required warning labels?
  5. How will you ensure that products on your platform meet minimum safety requirements and do not violate existing law, including, for example, lead limits in children’s products?
  6. What assurances will you give that the technology and analytics you develop to address these issues will continue to protect consumers as new products and new safety standards are developed?

Please provide answers to our questions above and additional steps you will take to repair consumer trust and safety on your platform by September 29, 2019.



[1] Alexandra Berzon, “Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products,” New York Times (New York, New York), August 23, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-has-ceded-control-of-its-site-the-result-thousands-of-banned-unsafe-or-mislabeled-products-11566564990.

[2] United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, Magnets Information Center, https://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Magnets.

[3]Consumer Product Safety, U.S. Code 15, §?2068 (a)(2)(B)

[4] Consumer Product Safety, U.S. Code 15, §?2069