Quality certification marks can be misleading

The safety assurance marks granted to industrial products by legal certification bodies are used by several e-commerces for commercial purposes, so that users perceive them as quality assurance marks.

Marks ensuring consumer safety

In Europe, the CE Mark certifies that a specific product meets the health, safety and environmental requirements necessary to ensure that it is safe for consumers. All products—nationally manufactured or imported—sold in the European market must bear this mark. It is the manufacturers themselves who self-ensure their products by providing a technical conformity certificate, which they must provide should the authorities require it.

Given that this stamp is “voluntary,” Europe also uses the GS Mark (Geprüfte Sicherheit -Tested Safety-), issued by an independent authority approved by the German government. This mark was initially established for the German market, but is valid and applied throughout Europe. There are several laboratories that test products to determine whether to grant the GS Mark or not.

In the USA we find the UL Mark, the most widely-accepted mark nationwide, which certifies—according to the organization’s website, ul.com—22 billion products annually, based on their own Standards for Safety. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also ensures quality standards, as an independent United States government agency that is directly responsible to Congress. This label was created by the Communications Act of 1934 for all 50 states.

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) is, on the other hand, a nonprofit organization that develops safety standards for companies, industries, the government and consumers throughout Canada. CSA is very familiar with U.S. requirements: the CSA-US Mark qualifies as an alternative to the UL Mark.

Quality certificacions, marks to sell more

All products manufactured in Europe must bear the CE Mark. Manufacturers committed to ensuring the safety of their products often also obtain the GS Mark. A German frying pan, for instance, such as a Woll titanium pan, needs to certify its manufacturing process by displaying both marks. The marks granted to this brand’s products can be looked up on certipedia.com. A quick search yields all the marks granted to the company Norbert Woll GmbH, which manufactures these renowned non-stick pans.

Woll fry pans SG mark

Nonetheless, possessing both marks does not only assure consumers of product quality, it is also an important sales resource used to convince consumers that products bearing them are of the highest quality. It is common for the web pages selling titanium frying pans found on any e-commerce to display several stamps or marks, as a way of assuring buyers of the product’s excellence. Alongside the CE, GS, UL or CSA Mark, it is also common to find marks that improve the quality of the product, such as “PFOA Free.”

Consumer-directed fraud

A small amount of online research on consumer goods reveals that the use of these marks can be misleading.

To return to the frying pan example, on April 20, 2015 the European Union included PFOA on the list of “Substances of Very High Concern, as it was deemed to fit the criteria of article 57, section c) of said Convention, which describes substances which may be toxic for reproduction 1B, as well as those of article 57, section d) of the same Convention, on persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances.” Therefore, its production and commercialization is restricted.

All pans sold nowadays are PFOA-free, but many retailers and manufacturers design their own marks and labels containing this information to advertise their pans as high-quality. An image search for “PFOA-free stamp” yields a large variety of customized stamps: (aquí va imagen)

PFOA Free logos

There are also instances of products whose stamps are not up-to-date, either because the website or the stamp itself has not been updated.

A much more serious scenario—which carries a criminal offense—is that of counterfeit products. Redpoints.com recently published a report, “Piracy in the toys industry”, for which they searched for the most popular toys in Spain for Christmas 2015/2016. They found thousands of results among e-commerces selling counterfeit products that were practically identical to the original, yet with large price differences and positive feedback from consumers. Merely changing one or two letters in the brand name or slightly modifying the company logo can be enough to deceive users.

Bearing this information in mind, it is advisable for online shoppers not to rely entirely on alleged “quality” certification labels, stamps or marks concerning the products they purchase. The best measure to avoid being tricked when shopping is to analyze the trustworthiness of the e-commerce selling the product in question (their contact options, legal information, customer service, after-sales services, etc.), as well as comments posted by other buyers. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask a sales representative about the marks and labels on their website.

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