The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) yesterday filed a complaint against Amazon over the sale of hundreds of thousands of hazardous products, including carbon monoxide detectors that fail to detect carbon monoxide, hair dryers without required protection from shock and electrocution, and flammable sleepwear meant for children. The CPSC said it sued Amazon to “force [the] recall” of the dangerous products. While Amazon has halted sales of most of them already and issued refunds, the CPSC said it isn’t satisfied with how Amazon notified customers and said the industry giant must do more to ensure that the faulty products are destroyed.
The dangerous products were offered by third parties using the “Fulfilled by Amazon” (FBA) program, in which Amazon stores products in its warehouses, ships them to customers, and takes a sizable cut from the proceeds. The CPSC’s administrative complaint alleges that Amazon hasn’t taken enough responsibility for dangerous third-party products that it ships via FBA.
The complaint didn’t mention any specific incidents of injury but said the evidence supporting the charges includes “lawsuits concerning incidents or injuries involving various consumer products identified in the Complaint.” It also said that CPSC staff tested the products and found that they don’t meet safety requirements. Products that don’t meet these requirements pose a substantial risk of injury or death to consumers, the agency said.
“The complaint charges that the specific products are defective and pose a risk of serious injury or death to consumers and that Amazon is legally responsible to recall them,” the CPSC announcement said. “The named products include 24,000 faulty carbon monoxide detectors that fail to alarm, numerous children’s sleepwear garments that are in violation of the flammable fabric safety standard risking burn injuries to children, and nearly 400,000 hair dryers sold without the required immersion protection devices that protect consumers against shock and electrocution.”
The CPSC said its complaint “seeks to force Amazon, as a distributor of the products, to stop selling these products, work with CPSC staff on a recall of the products, and to directly notify consumers who purchased them about the recall and offer them a full refund.”
“We must grapple with how to deal with these massive third-party platforms more efficiently, and how best to protect the American consumers who rely on them,” CPSC acting Chairman Robert Adler said.
In a statement provided to Ars, Amazon said it has already removed the “vast majority” of the products from its online store, notified customers, and provided refunds. Amazon alleged that the CPSC hasn’t provided enough information about the remaining products. Amazon said:
Customer safety is a top priority and we take prompt action to protect customers when we are aware of a safety concern. As the CPSC’s own complaint acknowledges, for the vast majority of the products in question, Amazon already immediately removed the products from our store, notified customers about potential safety concerns, advised customers to destroy the products, and provided customers with full refunds. For the remaining few products in question, the CPSC did not provide Amazon with enough information for us to take action and despite our requests, CPSC has remained unresponsive. Amazon has an industry-leading recalls program and we have further offered to expand our capabilities to handle recalls for all products sold in our store, regardless of whether those products were sold or fulfilled by Amazon or third-party sellers. We are unclear as to why the CPSC has rejected that offer or why they have filed a complaint seeking to force us to take actions almost entirely duplicative of those we’ve already taken.
Risk of fire, electrocution, and carbon monoxide
Over 30 sellers offered the defective hair dryers, and consumers bought “approximately 398,187” of them for $20 to $70 each, the CPSC wrote. They were sold between June 10, 2019, and March 9, 2021. The handheld hair dryers “lack an immersion protection device integral to the power cord,” violating a federal safety rule, and thus “present a significant electric shock and electrocution hazard to users,” the CPSC said.
The flammable children’s sleepwear garments were made by sellers called HOYMN, IDGIRLS, Home Swee, and Taiycyxgan and had product names including phrases such as “Little Girl’s Lace Cotton Nightgowns,” “Princess Sleepwear for Toddlers,” “Boy’s Plush Fleece Robe Shawl Skull,” and “Hooded Spacecraft Printed Soft Kids Bathrobe for Boy.” The kids’ sleepwear items sold for between $15 and $30 each.
“The children’s sleepwear garments have been tested by CPSC staff and fail to meet the flammability requirements for children’s sleepwear as required under the Flammable Fabrics Act,” the complaint said. Amazon distributed the products via FBA starting in May 2019 and “removed the ASINs for the children’s sleepwear garments” between January and April 2020, the complaint said.
The CPSC noted that most burn incidents involving kids’ sleepwear occur while children are awake and that the “primary hazard is ignition of the sleepwear by contact with hot surfaces and/or small open-flame ignition sources, such as stove elements, matches, and lighters.” Standards require that “children’s sleepwear garments stop burning when the flame source is removed.”
Amazon distributed defective carbon monoxide detectors made by sellers named WJZXTEK, Zhenzhou Winsen Electronics Technology Company, and BQQZHZ, the CPSC said. They were sold between February 9, 2018, and November 23, 2020, and 24,632 were sold to consumers at prices of $9 to $13.
“The carbon monoxide detectors have been tested by CPSC technical staff and failed to activate when carbon monoxide gas is present… The carbon monoxide detectors are defective because they fail to detect carbon monoxide and alarm consumers,” the complaint said.
The CPSC said that “Amazon removed the ASINs for certain of the Subject Products,” but it’s not clear which products have not been removed by Amazon.