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Amazon, eBay among websites found selling illegal mercury-laced skin lighteners

158 products tested in 12 countries: 60% contained too much mercury 

Some products had tens of thousands of times more mercury than legal limit

International coalition of NGOs urge governments to end ‘toxic trade’

 

Skin lightening creams containing mercury – a heavy metal and dangerous neurotoxin – are still widely available to purchase in shops and online, despite being banned by governments. That’s the finding of new research by a global alliance of NGOs working to eliminate mercury pollution. 

Testing throughout 2019 revealed 95 of the 158 products purchased in the 12 sampling countries exceeded the legal limit of 1 ppm (part per million), with mercury levels ranging from 40 ppm to over 130,000 ppm.

More than two-thirds (65 of the 95) of those were bought online from such internet marketers as Amazon , eBay, BidorBuy, Lazada, Daraz, Flipkart and Jumia [see table below] [1].

Amazon has already removed some products from sale after campaigners in the US showed the results of the research to the company ahead of the report’s launch.[2]

Elena Lymberidi-Settimo Project Manager at the European Environmental Bureau and International Co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) said:

“Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin which must be effectively controlled. Internet retailers like Amazon and eBay must stop these Illegal products from being sold on their sites, as they have recently pledged to do in the EU.”

In 2018, leading online retailers signed a ‘Product Safety Pledge’ to remove dangerous products. [3]

Many of the same brands were found to contain high mercury levels on several consecutive sampling occasions, in different years, and purchased from both physical shops and via e-commerce platforms. Most were manufactured in Asia, especially in Pakistan (62%), Thailand (19%) and China (13%), according to their packaging.

Products were tested in accredited laboratories in the EU and US and using a hand-held X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer or analyzer by two regional hubs: CASE in Côte d’Ivoire (for Africa), and Ban Toxics in the Philippines (for Asia). The study did not test products from Latin America. It tested in Africa, Asia, the EU and the USA.

Over 110 countries have committed to the Minamata Convention to phase out and limit mercury, including in cosmetics.  A meeting for parties to that convention is being held in Geneva this week [4].

Michael Bender, Mercury Policy Project Director and ZMWG Co-coordinator said:

Despite these illegal high mercury products being essentially banned by governments around the globe, our testing result shows the same products continuing to be sold locally and on the internet. In particular,  E-Commerce giants are not above the law and must be held accountable.”

The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) is an international coalition of more than 110 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from over 55 countries from around the world formed in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project. 

To address toxic trade in illegal products, the ZMWG has produced a report to assist authorities in effectively implementing the Minamata Convention. Key proposed enforcement measures include: new laws and regulations, alert systems, international and regional collaboration, inspections, penalties, engagement with online retailers and consumer outreach. The report also presents successful national examples and practices from 8 developing countries. [5]

Dr. Shahriar Hossain from Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO) Bangladesh said:

These hazardous and illegal products pose a serious mercury exposure risk, especially to repeat users and their children.  We welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with the authorities to stop the toxic trade in high mercury skin lightening creams.”


Table:  The following table lists the countries in which our NGO partners purchased skin-lightening products, as well as the range of mercury detected in the products purchase from the internet marketers.

NGO Purchasing Country Internet Platform Purchased From Range of mercury (ppm)
ESDO Bangladesh Daraz (www. daraz.com.bd) 9344.33 – 116,600.00
EEB United Kingdom Amazon UK (www.amazon.co.uk/) 0.00 -11,928.00
EEB Belgium eBay Belgium (www.ebay.be/) 0.00 – 20, 813.00
Toxics Link India Amazon, India (www.amazon.in) 46.95 – 113, 833.33
Toxics Link India Flipkart, India (https://www.flipkart.com/). 62.53
CASE Kenya Jumia, Kenya (www.jumia.co.ke) 0,00 – 11,313.18
SRADev Nigeria Jumia, Nigeria (https://www.jumia.com.ng) 0.00 – 20,598.76
SRADev Nigeria Nigeria – Jiji,  (https://www.jiji.ng), 0.00 – 2584.46
SRADev Nigeria Nigeria – Konga (www.konga.com) 0.00
Ban Toxics Philippines Lazada, Philippines (www.lazada.com.ph) 47.98 – 131,566.67
groundWorks South Africa South Africa – BidorBuy (www.bidorbuy.co.za) 0.00 – 33,082.92
MPP United States U.S.- eBay, USA (www.ebay.com) 0.00 – 23,000.00
MPP United States U.S. – Amazon (www.amazon.com/) 3400                     – 26,000.00

Further Reading

  1. ZMWG combined executive summary of the two reports – ”Dangerous, mercury-laden and often illegal skin-lightening products and measures to restrict them under the Minamata Convention”, in EN, FR and ES
  2. ZMWG Report- “Dangerous, mercury-laden and often illegal skin-lightening products: Readily available for (online) purchase”
  3. ZMWG Report – ”Enforcement measures to restrict high mercury cosmetic products under the Minamata Convention”

All reports above available at https://www.zeromercury.org/mercury-added-skin-lightening-creams-campaign/

Notes to the editor

[1] High mercury skin lightening products purchased from interent included:

  • 19 and 17 products from Amazon and eBay, respectively, purchased in the EU and US;
  • 10 products from BidorBuy, the most popular e-commerce platform in South Africa;
  • 7 products from Lazada, athe largest e-commerce platform in South East Asia;
  • 6 products from Daraz, a Chinese owned e-commerce platform that operates in South Asia.
  • 1 product from the Indian-owned Flipkart e-commerce platform.

Both Lazada and Daraz are affiliated with the Chinese global e-commerce platform Alibaba.

The following ZMWG member organizations, listed in alphabetical order by country, participated at the collection for information and testing of the two reports. The countries where creams were tested are also indicated: Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO), Bangladesh; European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the European Union (Belgium and the UK); Toxics Link (TL), India; Centre Africain pour la Santé Environnementale (CASE), Côte d’Ivoire (and Djibouti); Centre for Environment, Justice and Development (CEJAD), Kenya; Center for Public Health and Environmental Development (CEPHED), Nepal; Sustainable Research And Action For Environmental Development (SRADev), Nigeria; Ban Toxics (BT), the Philippines; groundwork South Africa (gW), South Africa; Bio Visio Africa (BIVA), Uganda; Mercury Policy Project (MPP), USA;

[2] Amazon pulls skin-lightening products after groups’ concerns, ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/amazon-pulls-skin-lightening-products-off-site-amid-67234975 

[3] EU Product Safety Pledge, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_18_4247  and https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/voluntary_commitment_document_4signatures3-web.pdf

[4] Minamata Convention on Mercury, http://www.mercuryconvention.org/

[5] Enforcement measures include:

  1. Laws, regulations and supporting tools (e.g. ingredients labelling, alert systems, detention lists)
  2. Division of responsibilities and mandates.
  3. In-country, regional and international collaboration.
  4. Inspections, sanctions, penalties, voluntary agreements and screening tools.
  5. Engagement with e-commerce platforms.
  6. Consumer outreach and collaboration with civil society organizations (CSOs), market surveillance and testing mechanisms.
  7. Harmonization of implementation and enforcement mechanisms.

 

ENDS

For more information:

Anton Lazarus, Communications Manager

anton.lazarus@eeb.org

+3222708818