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Seoul cracks down on toxic Chinese e-commerce products
2024-04-12
A children's leather bag sold from a Chinese e-commerce website contained toxic substances above 55 times the permitted level, the Seoul Metropolitan Government said. 
 
The city government on Monday unveiled its plans to crack down on "unsafe" products sold by Chinese e-commerce giants amid surging cross-border purchases made by Koreans. 

The local government will inspect the safety of products sold on three major Chinese cross-border shopping platforms — AliExpress, Temu and Shein. Lists of harmful products will be shared with the public every week starting on the last week of April. 
 
According to the city government, a total of eight products were found to contain toxic substances out of the 31 household goods and children’s products inspected last month. 
 
All eight products were made for children and students, including swim rings for children aged one to five, pencils and teethers. The safety tests checked the products' toxicity and durability and were conducted by the Korea Conformity Laboratories, Korea Apparel Testing & Research Institute and FITI Testing & Research Institute.
 
The leather bag that had carcinogens contained four types of phthalates, or plasticizers, commonly used to make plastics more durable. DEHP, one of the phthalates found in the bag, is classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It is believed to have the potential to cause cancer and birth defects, according to multiple health institutes. 
 
The inspection also revealed that the designs and shapes of two types of teethers sold on these websites had the risk of being easily damaged with minimal force.
 
The city government’s inspection comes as cross-border shopping purchases have surged lately.  
 
Domestic consumers’ cross-border purchases rose 28.3 percent year on year last year from 2022's 5.3 trillion won ($3.9 billion) to 6.8 trillion won. Nearly half of these purchases are from Chinese platforms. The number of monthly active users in Korea also reached 8.18 million on AliExpress in February, making it the second-largest e-commerce company after Coupang.
 
To further protect consumers from potential health risks, the city government announced plans to expand its crackdown on harmful products by inspecting different categories of products every month. 
 
It will also establish a separate center where consumers can file reports. Consumers can use the center’s hotline at 2133-4896 or the Dasan Call Center 120. 
 
The city government and Seoul’s Jung District Office requested AliExpress to respond to reports by disclosing information about the sellers. The company, under the Alibaba Group, is registered as an e-commerce business in the district.
 
However, according to the city government’s labor and fairness policy bureau, these companies may not be held responsible.
 
“It would be difficult to directly penalize these e-commerce platforms as they are not direct sellers and can evade the law by claiming that they have advised the sellers [regarding safety],” said Song Ho-jae, director-general of the city government’s labor and fairness policy bureau. “We will discuss with the central government to amend related laws [to minimize loopholes].” 
 
Incheon Regional Customs also reported the day before that 96 percent of some 400 low-priced accessories, including earrings, sold on AliExpress and Temu were found to contain significant amounts of carcinogens exceeding permitted levels. They contained substances such as cadmium and lead, both categorized as possibly carcinogenic to humans by the IARC.
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