The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced on July 14, 2021, that it filed an administrative complaint against Amazon.com, “the world’s largest retailer, to force Amazon to accept responsibility for recalling potentially hazardous products sold on Amazon.com.” CPSC claims that the specified products sold through Amazon’s “fulfilled by Amazon” (FBA) program are defective and pose a risk of serious injury or death to consumers and that Amazon is legally responsible to recall them. According to the complaint, the 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.”
CPSC filed the complaint under the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA). According to the complaint, Amazon acts as a “distributor,” as defined by CPSA, of its FBA products by: (a) receiving delivery of FBA consumer products from a merchant with the intent to distribute the product further; (b) holding, storing, sorting, and preparing for shipment FBA products in its warehouses and fulfillment centers; and (c) distributing FBA consumer products into commerce by delivering FBA products directly to consumers or to common carriers for delivery to consumers.
The complaint states that after CPSC notified Amazon about the hazards presented by the specified products, Amazon took “several unilateral actions,” including:
- Removing the Amazon Standard Identification Numbers (ASIN) for certain of the specified products; and
- Notifying consumers who purchased certain of the specified products that they could present a hazard. Amazon also offered a refund to these consumers in the form of an Amazon gift card credited to their account.
According to the complaint, these actions “are insufficient to remediate the hazards posed by the Subject Products and do not constitute a fully effectuated Section 15 mandatory corrective action ordered by” CPSC. The complaint states that “[a] Section 15 order requiring Amazon to take additional actions in conjunction with the CPSC as a distributor is necessary for public safety.” The complaint asks CPSC to:
- Determine that Amazon is a distributor of consumer products in commerce, as those terms are defined in the CPSA;
- Determine that the specified products are substantial product hazards under CPSA Sections 15(a)(1), 15(a)(2), and 15(j);
- Determine that public notification in consultation with CPSC is required to protect the public adequately from substantial products hazards created by the specified products, and order Amazon to take actions set out in CPSA Section 15(c)(1), including but not limited to:
- Cease distribution of the specified products, including removal of the ASINs and any other listings of the specified products and functionally identical products, from Amazon’s online marketplace and identifying such ASINs to CPSC;
- Issue a CPSC-approved direct notice to all consumers who purchased the specified products that includes a particularized description of the hazard presented by each specified product and encourage the return of the specified product;
- Issue a CPSC-approved press release, as well as any other public notice documents or postings required by CPSC staff, that inform consumers of the hazard posed by the specified products and encourage the return or destruction of the specified products;
- Order that Amazon facilitate the return and destruction of the specified products, at no cost to consumers, to protect the public adequately from the substantial product hazard posed by the specified products, and order Amazon to take actions set out in CPSA Section 15(d)(1), including but not limited to:
- Refund the full the purchase price to all consumers who purchased the specified products and, to the extent not already completed, conditioning such refunds on consumers returning the specified products or providing proof of destruction;
- Destroy the specified products that are returned to Amazon by consumers or that remain in Amazon’s inventory, with proof of such destruction via a certificate of destruction or other acceptable documentation provided to CPSC staff;
- Provide monthly progress reports to reflect, among other things, the number of specified products located in Amazon’s inventory, returned by consumers, and destroyed;
- Provide monthly progress reports identifying all functionally equivalent products removed by Amazon from amazon.com pursuant to the CPSC Order, including the ASIN, the number distributed prior to removal, and the platform through which the products were sold;
- Provide monthly reports summarizing the incident data submitted to CPSC through the Retailer Reporting Program;
- Order that Amazon is prohibited from distributing in commerce the specified products, including any functionally identical products; and
- Order that Amazon take other and further actions as CPSC deems necessary to protect the public health and safety and to comply with CPSA and the Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA).
CPSC “urges consumers to visit SaferProducts.gov to check for recalls prior to purchasing products and to report any incidents or injuries to the CPSC.” CPSC published the complaint in the July 21, 2021, Federal Register. 86 Fed. Reg. 38450.
In CPSC’s July 14, 2021, press release, Acting Chair Robert Adler states that the decision to file an administrative complaint is “a huge step across a vast desert -- 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.” According to The Washington Post, CPSC issued the administrative complaint “after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations between regulators and Amazon as the agency tried to persuade the company to follow the CPSC’s rules for getting dangerous products off the market, according to a senior agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on internal discussions.” This same official stated that “Amazon officials refused to acknowledge that the CPSC has the authority to compel the company to remove unsafe products.”
As reported in our February 16, 2018, blog item, “EPA Settles with Amazon on Distribution of Unregistered Pesticides,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Amazon entered into a Consent Agreement and Final Order (CAFO) whereby Amazon agreed to pay $1,215,700 in civil penalties for approximately 4,000 alleged violations under Section 3 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for the distribution of unregistered pesticide products. EPA later issued stop sale, use, or removal orders (SSURO) to Amazon and eBay for selling certain pesticide products that EPA claims are unregistered, misbranded, or restricted-use pesticides, and pesticide devices that EPA asserts make false or misleading claims. More information on the SSURO is available in our June 17, 2020, blog item, “EPA Issues Stop Sale, Use, or Removal Orders to Amazon and eBay for Unregistered and Misbranded Pesticides and Devices, Including Products with Claims Related to COVID-19.”
As reported in our October 9, 2020, blog item, Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, requested that Amazon Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chair Jeff Bezos launch an investigation into the safety of Amazon’s product line, AmazonBasics, and answer a series of questions pertaining to the company’s product safety and recall practices. The Committee’s October 7, 2020, press release notes that the request comes after a CNN investigation found that many of AmazonBasics’ electronic products “have exploded, caught fire, sparked, melted, or otherwise created hazardous situations at rates well above comparable products.” According to the press release, many of these products were never recalled and continue to be sold.
CPSC’s administrative complaint is just the latest indication of the pressure on Amazon to ensure the safety of the products the platform hosts. These federal agency and Congressional efforts will almost certainly cause more pressure on product manufacturers to ensure the products they offer for sale on Amazon are compliant with the relevant regulations.