On Friday, CPSC Chairman Alexander Hoehn-Saric gave a keynote address to the International Symposium of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO) in Almhult, Sweden. Hoehn-Saric focused his remarks on his stated goal for the third year of his term as chairman of the agency—addressing recalled or otherwise violative products sold on or through online marketplaces. In Hoehn-Saric’s view, consumers expect to purchase safe products on online marketplaces, and they should not need to know or discern whether a product is purchased directly from an online retailer or from an entity that has been provided access to consumers through the online platform. He complemented collaborative improvements by Amazon, eBay and Target but issued a call to action including adoption of “safety by design“ and legislative and regulatory protections.

Hoehn-Saric stated that for every hazard addressed by the agency, consumers can still find and purchase online dangerous products with that hazard—and this is a problem. According to Hoehn-Saric, in the past year, the CPSC has requested the removal of 50,000 products online, many of which were recalled or banned, such as crib bumpers. He emphasized that online marketplaces must “do more” to stand behind products sold on their platforms and address this issue in a proactive manner to ensure that violative products are not sold online in the first place. Of course, if such a product is sold, the online marketplace must move swiftly to remove the product from the platform. He called on online marketplaces to leverage their cutting edge technology to alert consumers to recalls with text messages, push messages in apps, and banners on login pages.    

The Chairman then stressed that products “need to have safety by design.”  He highlighted three areas that companies, particularly online marketplaces, should focus on:

(1) building corporate cultures that emphasize safety;

(2) holding third-party sellers of products accountable; and

(3) empowering consumers with tools and safety information.

Hoehn-Saric encouraged companies to appoint a Chief Product Safety Officer to maintain compliance with federal and state laws; train employees in product safety; prevent sales of recalled and noncompliant products; interact with relevant authorities; and incentivize employees to be part of the safety solution.

Notably, Hoehn-Saric announced that the CPSC will be sharing a list of best practices and steps for online marketplaces to take to address this burgeoning issue. He also noted that there is bipartisan support to tackle this problem in Congress but emphasizedthat the issue is not unique to the United States—international cooperation is imperative. He mentioned twice his recent meetings in London with global regulators to discuss cooperation to tackle the challenge of policing online marketplaces.

Finally, the Chairman also provided some interesting agency statistics from the past year in his remarks—the agency has announced 300 recalls; levied $52 million in civil penalties; screened approximately 60,000 harmful products at the ports; provided product safety trainings to 600 industry representatives internationally; undertaken 14 new mandatory rulemakings to address hazards such as the ingestion of small magnets and button cell batteries, and tip-over of furniture; and reinvigorated previously delayed rulemaking for nursing pillows and portable generators.