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Toy Recalls: eBay, Other Internet Sites Often Rife with Recalled Toys

Nov 17, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
Keeping up with toy recalls is tough enough.   But now, parents have a new worry.   Recalled toys are still being found for sale on internet sites lie eBay. New technologies are constantly emerging, and so is how consumers shop and receive information.  The Internet is global and regulation and control are no easy task.  Unfortunately, the small and underfunded Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is not up to the task of policing the thousands of sites where recalled toys are sold and resold.

Recalled products should not be sold by eBay or any other online site.  Period.  And, when recalls occur, firms take steps to remove products from the market.  But steps vary, and no company can police every site with which they do not conduct business.

Barbie, Polly Pocket and Thomas the Tank Engine make for headlines, so does Mattel accruing  $40 million in recall costs.  But what about the 400 annual toy and children product recalls that do not get coverage?  Or toys donated to thrift stores or sold at garage sales and online auction sites?

The CPSC recently logged 61 recalls and Mattel recalled millions of items.  Mattel says it learned of problems when toys failed a French importer's testing; Mattel wrote to retailers, ran ads in print, and advertised on sites likely to be visited by parents, such as Yahoo, Walt, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network.  Other manufacturers, importers, and distributors have also been subject to recalls, including Jo-Ann Stores, Gymboree, J.C. Penney, Toys "R" Us, and KB Toys.

Recent Internet studies revealed distressing information.  Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends Railway Car—recalled by RC2 Corporation—and Mattel’s recalled Dora the Explorer talking van and a Tickle Me Elmo product were found for sale on eBay.  A recalled Barbie and Tanner set from Mattel showed up—in bulk—on retail and business-to-business sites,, and  Of 1100 listings for recalled toys, eight percent carried enough indicative information—such as product numbers—to confirm product recall:  79% from Made-in-China, 13% from iOffer, and 8% from Alibaba.  Evenflo's Happy Camper was recalled ten years ago for problems resulting in two deaths and a Fisher Price baby jumper was recalled seven years ago; but both were recently purchased on eBay.  And, 141 children’s products recalled from 1992 to 2004 were found on nearly 200 online auctions.

eBay is considered the best at stopping recalled product auctions and works with the CPSC to stop these auctions.  eBay cancels listings, suspends accounts, and recently informed members they could be kicked off the site and lose fees for selling recalled merchandise.  The CPSC continues to reach out to major auction sites, but they are a small agency and the vastness of the Internet is challenging.

Recalls reveal how e-commerce has complicated product monitoring and distribution for manufacturers, retailers, and the CPSC.  However, the burden is not placed on recalling firms to search the Internet.  Rather, the CPSC prefers these firms focus on where they can confirm product sales:  their sites and online stores with which they contract.  Thus, the onus for policing online sale sites falls largely on government investigators.  Obviously, this ian enormous global endeavor, which is prompting talk about increasing enforcement.  The CPSC Reform Act, a proposal in the Senate, would strengthen the government's enforcement ability and make it illegal to sell, resell or import recalled products.

But until the CPSC Reform Act is passed, recalled toys can be easily found for sale on the Internet.

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