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Chinese shopping apps sell items containing hazardous substance

Chinese shopping apps sell items containing hazardous substance

Posted March. 04, 2024 08:08,   

Updated March. 04, 2024 08:08


Many products bought by Korean consumers on Chinese shopping platforms have been found to contain ingredients confirmed in Korea to be hazardous to health. Following the rapid growth of consumers using Chinese shopping sites such as AliExpress, Temu, and Shein, also known as ‘Altesh,’ reaching 13.5 million, there has been a rise in complaints related to return rejections and delivery delays.

An investigation of 181 household chemical products, including dyes, adhesives, and printer toners that are prohibited in Korea, conducted on AliExpress revealed that 79 products (44%) were found to be on sale. This means that products that are banned from imports as they contain harmful substances beyond threshold levels, such as benzopyrene, lead, and copper, can be purchased through direct purchase apps. Even some drugs that cannot be legally purchased without a doctor's prescription are sold. Sales of melatonin, a type of sleep hormone, can be subject to criminal punishment if distributed illegally, but sleep patches containing this ingredient are even being advertised.

Many customer complaints include deliveries that do not arrive for more than one month, though advertised to ‘ship within two weeks,’ and requests to return due to product defects being turned down. The number of Ali Express customer complaints filed with the Korea Consumer Agency has more than tripled compared to 2022.

Nevertheless, Korean consumers who signed up on overseas direct purchase apps were attracted to their low prices, free shipping, and marketing featuring famous models, which reached 7.17 million for Ali, 5.71 million for Temu, and 620,000 for Shein. With Ali emerging as the third largest among online shopping malls, there are growing concerns about retail market order disruption and ultra-low-priced Chinese manufacturing items impacting domestic small businesses.

The government’s response, however, remains reactive despite customer inconveniences and concerns. Upon the Ministry of Environment’s request to the Korea Online Shopping Association to block sales of items containing harmful ingredients, the Association merely recommended that the e-commerce companies, which don’t even have headquarters in Korea, stop selling them. Though the Korea Customs Service catches some of the items during the customs clearance, it is impossible to screen out every directly purchased item one by one. Consumers suffering from health issues after purchasing a product containing harmful ingredients without being aware of Chinese direct shopping sites have no way of being compensated due to a lack of regulations.

Consumers face public health risks from individually purchased Chinese items not adequately screened for containing harmful ingredients, poor product quality, and service inconvenience. The government must seriously consider ways to create legal and institutional mechanisms to prevent the import of harmful items before it is too late. The Korean government should negotiate with Chinese government authorities to protect Korean consumers when harmed.