‘Zero tolerance’: E-commerce firms urged to combat sale of mercury-laden whitening products and plastic pollution

By Amanda Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

Shopee and Lazada are being urged to lead the fight against the sale of adulterated whitening products and the problem of plastic waste pollution. [Getty Images]
Shopee and Lazada are being urged to lead the fight against the sale of adulterated whitening products and the problem of plastic waste pollution. [Getty Images]

Related tags: Sustainability, Skin whitening, Mercury

E-commerce companies such as Shopee and Lazada are being urged to lead the fight against the sale of adulterated whitening products and the problem of plastic waste pollution.

According to the Philippine-based non-profit EcoWaste Coalition, there are more than 280 listings for skin lightening cosmetic products on online shopping platforms including Lazada and Shopee.

“We have found over 280 product listings for skin lightening cosmetics, particularly facial creams, that have been banned by our health authorities for lacking market authorisation and/or for containing mercury, which is a forbidden ingredient in cosmetic product formulations,” ​said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

Under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive and the Minamata Convention, the presence of mercury is prohibited in cosmetics.

Application of creams containing mercury can lead to rash, skin discolouration and blotching. Long-term exposure to mercury may cause serious health consequences, including damage to the kidneys as well as digestive and nervous systems.

“Online shopping sites must stop wholesalers and retailers from using their platforms to engage in the illegal trade of mercury-containing skin whiteners that pose serious health risks,”​ said Dizon.

Dizon said that the group has reached out to the online platforms on more than one occasion to inform them of the violations.

“In some instances, ads for violative products were quickly taken down. But, after a few weeks, we would again find ads for non-compliant products despite the platforms’ supposed policy of zero tolerance for banned products. Our monitoring shows that this lingering problem has yet to be fully addressed.”

A representative from Shopee told CosmeticsDesign-Asia​ that it takes a “strict zero-tolerance approach” ​to the sale of prohibited and FDA-warned items on its platform.

According to the online platform, all listings must go through a series of screenings and any listings not cleared due to regulatory issues or other violations of our terms of use will be removed.

“We also take proactive measures to blacklist any related keywords to intercept new attempts to sell such items on our platform. When, in isolated cases, some listings have still managed to evade these screening processes, immediate action is taken.”

The Shopee platform also makes it convenient for users to report on such products via a link on all individual listings. “We take this opportunity to also remind buyers and sellers of our shared responsibility when it comes to our common role in protecting our health and the environment.”

The group has also received assurances from the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that it would reach out to the online platforms and instruct them to remove any sale or advertisements of the violative products.

“The authorities need to act fast to make the online marketplace safe from hazardous products. We expect the FDA, in consultation with stakeholders, to draw up additional measures to ensure that products sold online conform to quality and safety standards and regulations,” ​said Dizon.

The plastic problem

EcoWaste Coalition is also urging online e-commerce platforms to relook their policies on packaging waste considering the worsening plastic pollution plaguing the country.

“With the surge in online shopping amid the COVID-19 health crisis, we are deeply concerned with the obvious rise in plastic packaging waste that ends up being hauled to landfills or burned or dumped elsewhere,” ​said Dizon.

The group believes e-commerce platforms should disclose how much waste their operations generate so the government and the citizens can better under their plastic footprint.

“As online market leaders, we want them to take concrete steps in cutting their waste volume, including offering incentives to sellers and buyers for reduced packaging, as well as providing customers with plastic-free packaging choice at check-out and the option of returning used packaging materials,” ​said Dizon.

Earlier this month, Lazada and multinational beauty firm L’Oréal announced a sustainability partnership that aims to reduce the usage of plastic packaging materials.

Launching as a three-month pilot in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, products bought from Garnier, Maybelline and L’Oreal Paris on LazMall will be packed in parcels that use FSC-certified carton boxes and shredded paper recycled from returned parcel cartons.

The joint sustainable packaging initiative is expected to reduce the equivalent of 180,000 plastic water bottles.

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