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Dispatches investigates the ‘high levels of harmful materials’ in some Temu products

Channel 4

Dispatches investigates the ‘high levels of harmful materials’ in some Temu products

Best on the Box choice for May 30th…

Temu, the Chinese shopping app, has exploded in popularity with over half a billion downloads worldwide. With the cost of living still high, its rock-bottom prices have enticed an estimated 15 million UK users to download and shop on the app.

Dispatches investigates whether these bargain prices are too good to be true, exploring whether some of their products are made with high levels of harmful materials; and whether other items, such as climbing safety equipment, are accurately advertised as holding recognised safety certificates. Journalist Ellie Flynn travels across the UK revealing how Temu has reeled in so many consumers and how addictive the Temu app can be.

Toxic Temu

Products including children’s clothes purchased from the Chinese online marketplace Temu have been found to contain dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation has found.

The programme commissioned toxicology tests on a range of items from the app – which has been downloaded by 15 million Britons in less than two years since its launch – and found a £2.17 silver necklace containing ten times the quantity of lead that UK regulations permit.

Prolonged exposure to heavy metals can cause serious mental and physiological problems like stillbirths, reduced sperm count and damage to vital organs like kidneys and lungs. Other products, like a £2.97 gold chain, were also found to contain excessive quantities of heavy metals. Tests on samples from an £11.09 child’s jacket found the item contained antimony, which can be detrimental to the nervous system.

Professor Laurence Harwood, an organic chemist at the University of Reading, said: “I’m very concerned. Children younger than six-years-old are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning and it can have all sorts of effects on mental development, physical development and it can cause neurological issues in young and old alike.”

A Temu spokesperson said the company subsequently carried out its own toxicology tests on the products and “our tests did confirm some items exceeded acceptable limits for heavy metals. These items have been permanently removed, and we are working with the merchants involved.”

Safety Certification Concerns

Dispatches Reporter Ellie Flynn also found that the online marketplace, which has been advertising its bargain basement items to UK customers with a widespread advertising campaign, sells equipment that is advertised as carrying the approval of safety certification organisations who questioned the validity or authenticity of those claims.

Electrical product tester and certifier, VDE, told the programme that two pliers carrying its name had not been certified by the institute.

Flynn discovered the tools on Temu’s platform advertised with photos of safety certificates seemingly issued by VDE, whose mark is trusted by electricians internationally. However, the institute’s Hendrick Schäfer said that the photos had been altered to superimpose the name of the Temu merchant onto the document of a genuine certificate holder.

He said: “This certificate was a copy. It was illegal…they faked the original certificate and just overwrote the name on the certificate with their own names. This will have definitely consequences for this manufacturer.

“If the certification is not correct…the insulation of these handheld tools is maybe not properly done and the result could be an electric shock and in the worst case, electric shock could lead to death.”

In response to the certification of the pliers, Temu told Dispatches: “We do not allow forgeries and will take action against any sellers involved if such cases are found.”

The programme also found that medical products were listed on Temu as “FDA certified” and “FDA approved,” in reference to the US federal medical regulator. However, the FDA does not issue certificates and told the programme that it had not approved any of the products Flynn drew their attention to.

On Temu, she also found carabiners, used by rock climbers, tree surgeons and construction workers, carrying the safety mark of the “UIAA” (the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation). However, a safety standards representative for the federation closely examined the products and could not find a manufacturer’s mark on them, making it impossible to determine their provenance. Nick Galpin said that in order for safety equipment to be granted permission to use the organisation’s safety label, it must contain a manufacturer’s mark, clearly and indelibly on the products.

He added: “The UIAA would not have their mark, ever, on a carabiner or certified product that did not hold the manufacturer’s mark.”

Retail Rules Breached?

Items like bladed tools and BB guns which require all online retailers irrespective of the country they are based in to carry out age verification checks before allowing the product to be sold, were purchased from Temu without a request for proof of age.

A Temu spokesperson said: “We have been testing an age-verification system in the UK and expect to roll it out soon.”

Dispatches also found that prospective customers who wanted to read Temu’s Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy before signing up to the app would, on occasion, be unable to access them, in a potential breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

A Temu spokesperson said the company had “found that there was a bug affecting a small number of users. This has now been fixed.”

In an exclusive interview with Dispatches, Lisa Webb, from the consumer champion Which? warned that legislation to crack down on safety breaches is out of date in the age of digital shopping.

She said: “If you have bricks and mortar shops or retailers in the UK, where UK regulators and UK trading standards, for example, can access them and enforce against them, then that’s one thing. If you’ve got sellers who are based outside the UK or outside of Europe, it’s very hard to enforce against someone who’s not within your jurisdiction. And for that reason, I think it becomes much easier for them to be able to really, without any sort of guidance or knowledge, stick stuff on the internet for you to be able to access it.

“What we want to see is online marketplaces having the exact same responsibilities as all other retailers do. And at the moment, that’s not the case.”

Temu Response

In response to the findings by Channel 4 Dispatches, a Temu spokesperson said: “Temu takes the safety of products sold by third-party merchants …very seriously… We have a comprehensive vetting, monitoring, and enforcement process to ensure that products meet platform rules and regulatory requirements. We immediately remove any product listings in question pending a review.

“In the case of the carabiners… while the seller had provided the UIAA certificate, [they] failed to clearly mark the name or trademark of the manufacturer or supplier on the products. We will… allow the resumption of sales only after this issue is corrected.

“The medical products have been removed, and we are conducting a thorough review of other products claiming FDA approval to ensure they do not describe their registration status as approval or certification.”

The Truth About Temu: Dispatches, tonight (Thursday 30 May) at 8pm, Channel 4

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