By Nelson Flores, LlB., MSCK
PHILIPPINE environment, public health watchdogs and consumer protection groups warned the public about the proliferation of adulterated and dangerous products in e-commerce sites as it call on the government to ensure that online shoppers are adequately protected.
In a joint statement issued ahead of the World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) on March 15, the Laban Konsyumer, Inc. and EcoWaste Coalition said shopping online could be hazardous to human health and the environment in the absence of controls that would keep tainted products out of e-commerce sites.
Organized by Consumers International, the annual WCRD provides a platform for raising global awareness on consumer rights and needs. “Making Digital Marketplaces Fairer” is the theme for this year’s celebration.
Lawyer Vic Dimagiba, Laban Konsyumer Inc. president, said “the fast growth of digital technologies has allowed consumers to shop online anywhere and anytime. With the ever-present mobile phones and other e-devices, consumers now have easy access to an extensive range of goods or services with just the touch of a button.”
“But not all things being sold online are created equal. Just like in offline shopping, consumers need to be on their guard against adulterated, counterfeit, mislabeled and poor quality products that may pose health and safety risks. The risks are real, so regulatory agencies and e-commerce sites need to take greater measures to protect consumers from online cheats and unfair business practices,” he added.
EcoWaste Coalition Chemical Safety Campaigner Thony Dizon echoed Dimagiba’s plea for stronger online protection emphasizing the vulnerability of online shoppers to fall prey to false advertising and labeling claims and to bogus and hazardous goods.
“The online sale of goods such as cosmetic and wellness products with banned, controlled or undeclared ingredients is a serious matter as the consumption of such products may result to acute or chronic poisoning that can have adverse health effects, especially to women and children,” he said.
Dizon cited as an example the online sale of skin bleaching or lightening products that may contain mercury, hydroquinone or tretinoin.
Mercury, according to the ASEAN Post-Marketing Alert System (ASEAN PMAS) on adulterated cosmetics, is a heavy metal that is known to be severely hazardous to health even in small amounts. Nursing mothers are doubly vulnerable because mercury is passed on to nursing babies through breast milk that can affect the baby’s development.
Hydroquinone and tretinoin are classified as drugs in the Philippines due to their multiple serious adverse effects, including sensitivity to light, skin redness and permanent skin discoloration, when used indiscriminately, according to the ASEAN PMAS.
Health experts have warned that using products with hydroquinone and tretinoin during pregnancy may harm the developing fetus.