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Online marketplaces: a serious issue all over Europe

A workshop, hosted by Eucolight, the European association for lighting WEEE compliance schemes, gathered over 100 experts to discuss online sales of non-compliant products.

The workshop concluded that solutions must be implemented to make online marketplaces responsible for products sold through their portals. 

The workshop, held in Brussels on 17 October, discussed the widespread availability of products through online marketplaces that do not comply with consumer safety standards, VAT requirements, and environmental obligations.  High level speakers discussed who should be legally responsible for the non-conformity of products, and how this can be introduced into European and national legislation. 

The scale of the problem

Leva Vardanyan, Market Compliance Manager of the Lighting Industry Association (LIA), reported on a retail mystery shopper testing study. The initial findings of the survey revealed that a high proportion of   lighting products sold through online marketplaces have serious electrical safety risks. According to Ms Vardanyan, just removing the individual products detected from the market cannot be the solution, changes in the law and stronger tools for market surveillance are needed.

Richard Allen, Lobbyist from Retailers Against VAT Abuse Schemes (RAVAS) described the large scale of VAT avoidance through Non-compliant products bought at online marketplaces: a serious issue all over Europeonline platforms. He argued that marketplaces have a great responsibility here. Through amendments to VAT legislation, the EU and and some Member States are supporting this approach and making marketplaces responsible. Germany, where there are new VAT obligations for online marketplaces if the seller is not compliant, is a good example. 

Nigel Harvey, Chief Executive of Recolight described a study undertaken by the WEEE Scheme Forum, to check the WEEE compliance of products sold through online marketplaces.  This showed that 54% of power tools, 76% of LED lightbulbs, and 88% of fitness watches did not comply.  

Commenting on the study, Nigel Harvey said “Evidence shows there is large scale WEEE non-compliance sales through online marketplaces.  High street retailers have, for many years, checked the compliance of equipment producers. Online marketplace operators could – and should – do the same.  There can be no excuse for knowingly aiding the sale of products that break the law.”

Monika Romenska, Regulatory & Public Affairs Manager,of EXPRA (Extended Producer Responsibility Alliance for Packaging and Packaging waste) added “Distance sales already represent up to 20 – 30 per cent of the market across various waste streams in certain Member States. By avoiding paying for their collection and reprocessing costs, these sales distort the market: they impose an unfair cost on compliant producers, thus rendering these – mostly local companies – less competitive.”

The importance of greater consumer education was also mentioned. Triin Saag, of the European eCommerce & Omni-Channel Trade Association (EMOTA) argued, for example, that “product safety is a two way street where consumers should also be educated.” 

Views from the Commission

Hans Ingels of DG Growth, speaking about the Goods Package, highlighted three principles for Member States to counteract an over-extended presence of non-compliant products on the market “1) working with businesses to prevent non-compliances instead of only policing the market; 2) fit-for purpose tools to check online sales of products and follow-up; and 3) improved cooperation between authorities across the EU.” 

Bettina Lorz, of DG Environment, supported coordinate enforcement actions at supra national/ national level. She argued that customs, tax and enforcement officials should work in a joined-up fashion with the environmental authorities on product regulation and enforcement: The Goods Package could be a good opportunity for implement this kind of synergy.

Next steps – online marketplaces must take responsibility

Summarizing the discussions, Marc Guiraud, Secretary General of EucoLight, stated ‘It is urgent for policy makers and online marketplaces to take action to address non-compliance of products sold online. Member States are already starting to implement this at a national level”. 


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