Why the EU needs to improve its product safety law
An essential EU product safety law, called the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD), dates back to 2001 and is not made for an era of online shopping and the Internet of Things. BEUC and its sister organisation ANEC have just issued recommendations on how to make it fit for the 2020s.
The GPSD obliges producers to only place safe products on the market. It is a law that sets general requirements for products that do not benefit from ‘sectoral’ – that is, product-specific – safety legislation. Commodities as diverse as furniture, textiles, bikes, ladders, and child-care products derive their safety requirements from the GPSD.
What challenges does the current law not tackle?
- Consumers buy more and more online. Online marketplaces that allow third-party traders from around the world to sell on their platforms have become very popular. Consumer group research has unfortunately found that many unsafe products end up in people’s homes via this avenue, with in one case two-thirds out of 250 tested products failing safety laws. This points to serious gaps of accountability and liability in the supply chain, and regarding the enforcement of consumer protection online.
- The rise of new technologies. For example, the legal definition of ‘safety’ has traditionally focused on consumers’ health or physical integrity. But consumer group tests have unveiled hackable smart watches, tablets, security cameras and more. What if a third-party exploited the security gaps of a connected oven or of a smart watch for children to steal people’s data? Here, too, current EU rules do not sufficiently address accountability, liability and enforcement.
- Lack of robust rules on chemicals. Year after year, a high number of notifications about harmful chemicals in products is made to the EU’s Safety Gate rapid alert system. The current GPSD does not establish what a ‘safe’ product means when it comes to chemicals. In addition, products which are imported into the EU often contain harmful and banned chemicals.
How to bring the law up to date?
The EU has made a start at addressing these challenges by approving a reform of market controls in 2019. However, this reform only applies to products with sector-specific laws. The GPSD needs to extend the improvements to all consumer goods.
To fix the above-mentioned challenges, the GPSD reform should also go further than this 2019 update. For example, online marketplaces must be considered as operators in the supply chain and be held liable if products sold through their platforms cause damage. And the concept of ‘safety’ should be broadened to include (cyber)security aspects that have an impact on safety. An updated GPSD should also set detailed chemical safety criteria for consumer products.