WASHINGTON -- Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce website, announced a plan this week to prevent recalled products from reaching American consumers.
The deal with the Consumer Product Safety Commission is the agency's first agreement with a foreign-based website. Alibaba, based in China, has a surging U.S. presence, especially since its shares began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in September.
Under the terms announced Tuesday, the CPSC will give Alibaba a list of items deemed illegal or unsafe for American consumers. Alibaba, in turn, will prevent those products from shipping to an address or a customer recognized as located in the U.S.
The collaboration, an initiative of CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye, is not technically enforceable. Kaye “will attempt to use his influence to make sure Alibaba fulfills their end of the agreement,” spokesman Scott Wolfson said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “They worked in good faith with us, so there’s a full understanding of what his expectations are," he said.
The agency plans to start with a list of five to 15 products that have been recalled in the U.S., but still have some American demand, and will expand the list later. Wolfson said the list is likely to include such items as the magnetic desk toy Buckyballs, recalled in July 2014; the Nap Nanny Instant Recliner, recalled in June 2013; and lawn darts, banned since 1988.
Negotiations for the agreement started in late November, according to Jim Wilkinson, Alibaba Group’s senior vice president for corporate affairs.
Alibaba claims to have spent $160 million to prevent the sale of fake or fraudulent items during the past two years. Bob Christie, vice president of international media for Alibaba Group, told The Huffington Post that a team from the company's headquarters in Hangzhou, China, already monitors for sales of banned items. Christie said it's too early to determine whether the deal will cost the company additional money.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 outlaws sales of previously recalled products. Internet transactions have proven more difficult for the government to enforce than in-person or store purchases.
Kaye spoke with Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster Thursday in San Francisco about new steps the website can take to protect the safety of millions of people who use it, Wolfson said.