Avoid selling unsafe products on online platforms
- Marco van Hagen
- 10 June 2022
- Edited 25 September 2023
- 4 min
- Managing and growing
If you sell products on an online marketplace such as bol.com, Amazon, or Marktplaats, you remain responsible for product safety. According to the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), “most businesses mean no harm, but simply do not know the rules.” As a result, unsafe products do still occasionally end up being sold. These products can be taken offline by the marketplace. And you may have to recall or pay a fine because of your sold goods.
An online marketplace is a digital third-party platform that matches supply with demand. Many platforms are not legally responsible for the safety of products offered by businesses, but they do have some responsibility in this regard. Martine Lohues and Spencer Paul of NVWA talk about how they are working with platforms to ensure that fewer unsafe products reach the market.
Insufficient knowledge of the rules
Paul, who works for the Expertise unit of NVWA’s Enforcement Directorate, has found that dropshippers frequently offer unsafe products. “Most of these businesses mean no harm, but simply do mot know the rules.”
Lohues, E-commerce Supervision project leader, adds: “The NVWA has developed a crawler, a kind of online tool we can use to search the Internet for potential dropshippers, who we then send NVWA information about product safety rules.”
Dropshippers do not keep any products in stock themselves, but they still have to follow the rules that apply to companies that do keep products in stock. “Many of these businesses are insufficiently familiar with the rules, too. Dropshippers are not the only ones by a long shot, which is why it is so important that platforms help educate their vendors,” Paul stresses.
Rules difficult to read
“Product safety rules, like those on CE , are difficult to read,” Paul notes. “The legislation has been around for 35 years and was mainly intended for major producers. But it also applies to smaller importers or dropshippers that sell their products online and source their goods from non- countries. Smaller businesses in particular have told us that they struggle with the rules.”
“There is hope,” Paul notes: “Suppliers are required to provide small-scale importers with an EC declaration of conformity and technical We do not expect importers to look through all the technical files of all the products they supply with a fine-toothed comb, but this does, at the very least, show importers that someone has looked to see if the products comply with EU rules.”
“Importers are responsible for placing safe products on the market,” Lohues reiterates. “You need in-depth knowledge about goods in order to decide whether or not to import them. In practice, it is quite easy to open an online shop and start selling products, but importers also have to dive into laws and regulations. Running a business is more than just selling products.”
Want to know more about your responsibility as an importer? Then contact the KVK Advice team: 088 585 22 22. Or read this article: Product safety checklist for .
Consequences for sellers
Businesses that discover one of their products is unsafe are required to notify NVWA, regardless of whether they find out themselves or if their supplier warns them. Businesses big and small pass on safety (NVWA, in Dutch) to NVWA almost every day, after which NVWA takes action in accordance with its intervention policy.
NVWA has a so-called intervention policy for product that states exactly how NVWA assesses violations and how they intervene. Paul: “Depending on the severity of the violation, a written warning or fine will usually follow, but it may also result in a forced recall or the seizure of valuable assets.”
Running a business is more than selling products.
Some vendors import products directly from outside the European Economic (EEA). These vendors then have the same obligations as a producer. This means they are liable for damages caused by a defect in the product. This is called product liability. “If the NVWA encounters products that pose a serious risk to human or animal health, it may force the importer to recall them at their own expense. This includes products sold in other EU member states,” Paul warns. NVWA then informs relevant organisations in those countries.
Platforms are not required to recall goods, yet they often volunteer to do so. Lohues explains: “They feel involved, and selling unsafe products will likely hurt their reputation.”
Assistance for vendors
Platforms take responsibility for unsafe products and also put some effort into preventing vendors from making mistakes. Paul: “There are 35,000 businesses that sell products on bol.com, for example. Many of these businesses have little knowledge of product safety rules.”
We need the platforms to make e-commerce safer.
“Amazon in particular offers a lot of assistance to business owners by providing information and training courses on product safety. Bol.com is now also taking these steps," Lohues notes. Bol.com lists additional safety requirements that goods from sellers on their platform must meet. And also explains CE marking.
Lohues continues, "Special consultancies help small entrepreneurs. They guide them with meeting product safety requirements, and charge for this. Unfortunately, many small entrepreneurs see these costs as a barrier, so they do not take the step."
Platforms and their roles
Online sales via platforms are increasing. The platforms have an increasingly important role in the e-commerce landscape. “NVWA cannot handle all oversight on its own: we need the platforms to make e-commerce safer,” Lohues points out. That is why NVWA has working agreements with online marketplaces. This is needed because platforms have few actual legal obligations. These working agreements touch on 3 main topics:
1. Notice and takedown
The law states that online marketplaces do not have to actively look for unsafe products. "First, they receive a notification of unsafe products, or unsound offerings. Only when they take no action are they responsible for selling them. In working agreements, the NVWA and the marketplace agree on how the NVWA reports an unsafe offer. The marketplace removes the unsafe product from its website. This prevents further distribution. If the platform does not do this, we can impose a fine," Lohues explains.
Paul adds: “Working agreements are a like a statement of intent. By signing them, platforms declare that they are committed to keeping products that may be unsafe for consumers, animals, or the environment off their platforms. We regularly consult with marketplaces on how they handle this. The NVWA then asks whether they are taking measures against the sale of unsafe products."
"This concerns offers of products with a serious safety risk," Paul explains further. "We ask if the marketplace puts a filter on its website on a certain keyword, for example. This causes an ad with that keyword to be automatically removed after placement. We also ask whether the marketplace informs advertisers about legal obligations."
The idea behind this is that "we need to monitor digital marketplaces less and less. Because the sale of unsafe products is thus decreasing. The platform itself decides whether it actually takes action: the law does not require it. But if the marketplace engages in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and does not want to get a bad name, it cooperates on this'.
3. Requisitioning data
The NVWA sometimes demands data from online marketplaces. Lohues: "If we see that a provider is selling unsafe products, we ask the platform for that provider's data. We then take action against this seller."