House Energy & Commerce Leaders Ask Amazon to Investigate Safety Of AmazonBasics

On Wednesday, House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D- N.J.) and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D -Ill.) sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking for the company to investigate the safety of its AmazonBasics product line and to answer questions regarding its product safety and recall practices. They have also requested that Amazon immediately recall defective or dangerous products and to take corrective measures to protect consumers.

Reps. Pallone and Schakowsky noted that their request is in response to an investigation that found that many AmazonBasics items for electronic devices, including “USB cables and surge protectors have exploded, caught fire, sparked, melted, or otherwise created hazardous situations at rates well above comparable product.” However, the Representatives contended that as stated in the investigation, these products were not recalled and are still being sold.

“We have long been concerned with the proliferation of recalled, defective, mislabeled, counterfeit, and fundamentally unsafe products sold on,” Pallone and Schakowsky stated. “The new concerns regarding Amazon’s own product line add to mounting questions about Amazon’s priorities and oversight of its sprawling platform.”

Pallone and Schakowsky claimed that while AmazonBasics may seem to be a good choice “because they are shipped and sold by – an established, well-known brand,” and they have the “‘Amazon’s Choice’ or ‘Bestseller’ labels…these products are largely manufactured by contract [manufacturers], mostly in China”; this information is not available on the products’ pages. Reps. Pallone and Schakowsky raised concern over Amazon’s “grossly inadequate” oversight of its own AmazonBasics product line. They proffered that Amazon ignored safety concerns even after customer reviews and photographs illustrated the users of the potential dangers experienced. They felt that Amazon “turned a blind eye” to these issues by “prioritizing sales at the expense of safety.” Specifically, the lawmakers noted that Amazon owns more than 400 brands, but Amazon does not offer any links to consumers regarding learning more about recalls, unlike most retailers and manufacturers whose products were subject to recalls. The only recall link purportedly links to a 2012 infant product, and “has zero mention of its AmazonBasics recalls or any of the myriad of other recalled products sold by Amazon or third-party sellers” on Amazon. Furthermore, Amazon only issued official recalls twice: in 2018 for a portable power bank and in 2019 for a space heater; both products were susceptible to overheating, causing potential fire and burn hazards. They stated that Amazon was in a position to have a large campaign to remove these products from consumers’ homes, but Amazon did not engage in such a campaign. The committee leaders are worried that this is “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Moreover, Reps. Pallone and Schakowsky expressed concern over Amazon’s practices. The lawmakers stated, “Especially troubling is Amazon’s habit of simply deleting product listings, with nothing more than ‘SORRY we couldn’t find that page,’ when it decides to take down a product — burying bad reviews and leaving no way for consumers to verify past purchases or to even learn that the product was deliberately taken down. An untold number of AmazonBasics product listings have reportedly been surreptitiously removed. We are concerned that this practice may make it more difficult for safety regulators to investigate product hazards.”

Some of the questions that Pallone and Schakowsky requested Bezos to answer include:

  • “Please provide detailed information regarding all products from Amazon-owned brands that are no longer for sale on your site due at least in part to safety concerns, but which were not officially recalled” and for those that “have been officially recalled.”
  • “How many times have you taken down a product sold by a third-party seller due at least in part to safety concerns?”
  • “[W]hat notification do you provide directly to customers who have purchased products later recalled, or found to be counterfeit, mislabeled, or otherwise unsafe?”
  • “[W]hat other kinds of consumer or public outreach (e.g., advertising, social media, or alerts on Amazon’s homepage) do you conduct to ensure consumers properly dispose of, repair, or seek another remedy for a product with safety issues?”
  • “How can consumers find information regarding all products sold on Amazon that have been recalled? If they cannot, why is that information not available, and do you have any plans to make it available?”
  • “Please describe your understanding of Amazon’s legal obligation to notify the CPSC when it has information that a product may contain a substantial product hazard, including whether you believe reviews on Amazon’s website providing evidence of products causing fires, melting, or burning constitute information regarding a substantial product hazard?”

Pallone and Schakowsky averred that Amazon “must be transparent and forthright with its customers about the safety of all of its products.”