Alibaba, the Chinese B2B trading marketplace that last year went through a blockbuster IPO in the U.S., today made a move to self-police itself around one of the more sensitive issues around imports from its home country: Chinese products that have been deemed dangerous by U.S. authorities, but somehow manage to make their way to U.S. buyers anyway.
Today, Alibaba said that it had signed a voluntary safety collaboration with the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to halt those transactions that terminate in the U.S. with U.S. resellers.
In a blog post on the new controls, the CPSC writes that the move will establish better lines of communication between Alibaba and the CPSC, and under the agreement, Alibaba says it will act faster on requests over banned and recalled products, as well as give better information to U.S. buyers ahead of them purchasing goods that may be on the blacklist.
The news was announced today at the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair, and while children’s products is definitely one of the bigger product groups at issue here, the rules will apply across other categories as well, including phones, chargers, gadgets and other electronics goods.
The announcement comes some three months after the chairman of the CPSC, Elliot Kaye, made a point of criticising e-commerce sites that enable the sale of these goods, with the implication that there should be tighter controls to restrict this. (One company singled out by Kaye, Craigslist, subsequently defended itself in an open letter to chairman Kaye.)
In that context, it’s not too surprising to see Alibaba taking more action for self-regulation before a third party makes that decision. It’s also not surprising that it would get pressure to rein in some of its unfettered growth: the company last quarter reported revenues of $2.7 billion, which was only curtailed because it’s investing so much in expansion.
It seems that other sites may already have similar arrangements with the CPSC, which says it “works closely with other online marketplaces to protect the safety of U.S. consumers in the online marketplace.”
“With an increasing number of companies and consumers taking their business online, Alibaba’s decision to implement these new policies is a victory for U.S. consumers and their safety,” said Chairman Kaye in a statement. “The company’s forward leaning approach in this regard will help prevent dangerous and recalled products from being passed on to unsuspecting consumers.”
Alibaba in 2014 saw 300 million buyers come to its platform, and its huge growth has in part been a by-product of the boom in Chinese manufacturing and the import of Chinese goods to other markets like the U.S.
“We are honored and proud to work with the CPSC on these important and serious consumer protection measures. Chairman Kaye is a strong leader with an excellent track record of results in protecting U.S. consumers. We look forward to working collaboratively with the Chairman and his team to do everything possible to protect consumers,” said Jim Wilkinson, Alibaba Group’s Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs, said in a statement.