Sunday, June 16, 2024

Shopping on Temu? Beware toxic materials in kids clothes & lack of safety checks

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WITH bargain prices at massive discounts, Chinese online marketplace app Temu has taken the world by storm.

Its products — which can be as cheap as £2.80 for a rucksack — are often a third of the price of competitors such as Amazon.

Temptations of Temu bargains come at a priceCredit: Getty
Chloe’s arm was severely burned after using nail glue purchased from TemuCredit: Kennedy Newsand Media

Unsurprisingly, these huge savings have seen more than 15million people in the UK download the app since its launch in April last year.

But my new Channel 4 Dispatches documentary investigates whether the low prices on some products are too good to be true.

In the half-hour programme, which airs tonight at 8pm, I uncover dangerous levels of toxic materials in a number of products, including children’s clothing.

And I reveal how the Temu app mirrors gambling sites in the way it attracts customers and keeps them spending.

Toxicology tests commissioned by our Dispatches team found a £2.17 silver necklace contained ten times the quantity of lead that UK regulations permit.

Other products, such as a £2.97 gold chain, were also found to contain excessive quantities of heavy metals.

Prolonged exposure to heavy metals can cause serious mental and physiological problems, such as stillbirths, reduced sperm count and damage to the kidneys and lungs.

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

“And it can cause neurological issues in young and old alike.”

Prof Harwood is also extremely concerned about the “absolutely unacceptably high levels” of heavy metal antimony found in a child’s leather jacket, which cost £11.09.

I hated my greasy splashbacks so bought some £16 Temu stick on tiles – it was a faff but I’m obsessed with the results

Antimony has similar properties to arsenic and has been linked to skin and breathing problems, as well as issues with the lungs, heart and stomach.

Responding to the findings, Temu said: “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.

Cutting out middleman

“We aim not just to meet the minimum legal requirements but to exceed them . . . and will continue to devote significant resources to improving consumer protection.”

A recent YouGov survey found that 71 per cent of Brits say they are worried about product quality when making purchases from new commerce sites such as Temu.

Temu, whose parent company is estimated to be worth £170billion, is able to keep its costs so low because it is actually a marketplace, not a manufacturer.

The site provides an online platform for thousands of Chinese businesses to sell their goods directly to customers, cutting out the middleman and making huge savings.

While this can be great news for shoppers struggling due to the cost- of-living crisis, it also means the UK’s strict consumer laws are not always able to protect us when things go wrong.

Our laws, including the Consumer Protection Act, were introduced before the advent of online shopping, and they hold the manufacturers responsible, but not digital platforms such as Temu.

During the investigation, I also found that I was, at points, unable to access Temu’s Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy before signing up to the app. It is really important that customers know what they are signing up for — and not being able to access these legal documents is a potential breach of the ­Consumer Rights Act 2015.

In response, a Temu spokesman 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 watchdog 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 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 is not within your jurisdiction.

Temu launched an investigation into the glue after being made aware of Chloe’s burnCredit: Jamie Norris via Facebook
Chloe with mum Stacey, dad Jamie and brother OliverCredit: Kennedy Newsand Media

“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 just not the case.”

The more time I spent on the Temu app, the more I enjoyed the shopping experience — in part due to the constant flash sales, prize wheels and games that pop up as you browse.

I wanted to understand if there was a reason I was feeling compelled to keep returning to the app after shutting it down, so I commissioned an expert in brainwave technology to measure my pleasure responses to shopping on Temu.

‘Pleasure spikes’

The test was carried out by Myndplay, a company that specialises in neuromarketing and measuring brainwave and emotion responses in real-world environments.

For the experiment, I spent ten minutes on three different apps — Temu, Amazon and a gambling app — and was shocked by the results.
The test found that shopping on Temu sat somewhere between the pleasure of shopping on Amazon and betting on a gambling app.

Tre Azam, CEO of Myndplay, monitors a screen as I browse, before creating a report to show the results of my shopping and gaming experience.

Tre describes my brain’s responses to shopping on Temu as “more of a kind of up-down journey, similar to the gambling”.

He explains: “With the gambling, you had a constant increase over the period of time, whereas with Temu, you were getting quite highs of pleasure and then you were dipping a little bit, but the average pleasure was higher all the way through.

“It definitely seems to give you more short-term wins [than Amazon].”

When asked if I was at risk of becoming addicted to the Temu app, Tre said: “I think there could be a risk. If you’re getting these little pleasure spikes consistently, it’s a lot harder to come off.

Conservative politician Iain Duncan Smith warns that the line between successful marketing strategies and gambling is not clear enough in current legislation and wants to investigate whether shopping apps should be better regulated.

‘Malware and spyware’

By Emma Pietras

TEMU has been hit with a raft of accusations, including claims its app is loaded with malware and spyware.

Research firm Grizzly Research says this could “potentially give bad actors full access to almost all data on customers’ mobile devices”.

The US government has also accused Temu of being a potential data risk, and Google has removed its sister company, Pinduoduo, from its app store for containing malware.

Politicians here and in the US have also raised concerns after an investigation found an “extremely high risk” that some of its products could have been made with forced labour. However, Temu says it “strictly prohibits” the use of forced, penal or child labour by all its merchants.

Safety has been another issue. In December last year, schoolgirl Chloe Norris, 11, suffered third-degree burns and needed skin grafts after using glue bought from Temu to do her fake nails.

Her mum Stacey, 38, from the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, told how her daughter’s hands and arms started burning and blistering. She was also left with nerve damage.

A Temu spokesman said the company launched an investigation as soon as they were made aware.

They also offered Chloe £1,500 in credit as a goodwill gesture.

But mum Stacey said at the time: “This was my first-ever purchase from Temu and I will never purchase anything from their website ever again.”

He said: “I think the Temu system is based on gambling technology. So instead of gambling on the outcome of something, they’re actually gambling in the way to get cheaper product.”

In response to the findings, Temu said: “Gamification elements are inspired by activities at funfairs and shopping malls. They are designed to be enjoyable and provide value by allowing customers to unlock discounts.

As a newcomer to the UK, we have been adapting our practices to align with relevant regulations.

We are committed to working with stakeholders to address and improve aspects of our app.”

Huge draw

During a cost-of-living crisis, it is no surprise that Temu is the UK’s most downloaded shopping app.

But my investigation raises serious concerns about the safety of products available on the online marketplace.

Lots of shoppers love the app, and its bargain prices are a huge draw, especially as budget retailers such as Poundland struggle to keep costs down. But it’s essential Temu ensures the products that are going on sale are always safe.

Brainwave monitoring shows Ellie gets a high as she browses on Temu app

However, after everything I have learned making this documentary, I worry this might not currently be the case.

Responding to all the findings in our documentary, Temu 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.”

  •  The Truth About Temu: Dispatches is on tonight at 8pm on Channel 4.

Safety fear

By Tara Evans, Consumer Editor

LOW prices on platforms like Temu are great for shoppers, but there can be big issues if there is a problem with a purchased item.

The law in the UK means it is up to the manufacturer to solve it, making it harder to get a refund via the online marketplace.

Many shoppers also assume that online marketplaces have to ensure the products sold on their platforms are safe – but this is not the case.

Some platforms have voluntarily promised to improve product safety, but no regulator has to oversee products are up to scratch.

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