Alibaba Promises To Help CPSC Keep Banned Merchandise Out Of The United States

Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba is the world’s largest online marketplace, and its wide reach has a downside for consumer safety. Retailers and consumers alike use the site to source parts and products directly from factories abroad. The lack of intermediaries makes it very easy to order products that have been banned in the United States for safety reasons, and that’s why the Consumer Product Safety Commission has teamed up with the site.

The agency and the mega-site announced their new alliance at the Hong Kong Toy Fair, but they’ll be collaborating on more than toys. According to the CPSC statement, Alibaba will add tools for users who are importing “higher risk consumer products” into the United States to decide whether the item they’re ordering has been banned in the United States.

“With an increasing number of companies and consumers taking their business online, Alibaba’s decision to implement these new policies is a victory for U.S. consumers and their safety,” CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye said in a statement. Kaye confirmed to Reuters that this is the first agreement that the agency has made with a company outside of the United States.

The CPSC didn’t name any specific products that would fall in the “high risk” category, but here’s one that would likely be included: children’s clothing items with drawstrings. Those are legal in other countries and sometimes end up on store shelves in thee United States, but are banned here. On the business-to-business platform within Alibaba, importers buying items in the children’s clothing category would be alerted to make sure they aren’t importing, say, toddler hoodies with drawstrings.

The agreement isn’t enforceable, though, and the CPSC can’t actually stop merchants from selling banned items to Americans. One critic points out that while Alibaba might want to remove dangerous or defective merchandise from its marketplace, the size of it makes that pretty much impossible.

Alibaba is often compared to Amazon for American readers, but that isn’t quite right: the company isn’t a merchant. Imagine if Amazon were only its marketplace, and had no warehouses or inventory. That’s what Alibaba is: it operates a variety of sites, but on all of them serves only as a platform for merchants to run stores, collect payments, and offer escrow services. Between its various sites, Alibaba does more business than Amazon and eBay combined.

Alibaba agrees to block sale of dangerous toys in U.S.: commission [Reuters]
Sticky: Online Commerce Company Alibaba Group and CPSC Working Together On Consumer Safety [CPSC]