Tesco caught breaching EU rules on harmful chemicals

Tesco Tesco and Carrefour are among those retailers and brands failing to meet their legal responsibilities to provide consumers with information on toxic or carcinogenic substances used in products they sell

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Major retailers in Europe including Carrefour, Tesco and Toys R Us are breaking EU rules designed to protect consumers from harmful chemicals, an investigation has found.

Under the landmark Registration Evaluation Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) legislation introduced in 2007 consumers, upon request, have been given the 'right to know' about whether products they are buying contain certain chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic. These harmful chemicals are due to be phased out in the future but in the meantime are listed by the EU as substances of very high concern (SVHC).

An investigation by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) to test this legislation saw just 22 per cent of requests receive adequate responses. Half of the requests were not answered at all by retailers including Tesco, Carrefour and Toys R Us.

In the case of Carrefour, later tests showed a Cosmetic bag on sale in stores in Belgium contained high concentrations of harmful chemicals listed as SVHC, while Tesco stores in Hungary were selling flip flop shoes also containing harmful chemicals.

'Whether it is a misunderstanding of their requirements or a clear and informed refusal remains to be seen but some retailers are clearly failing their obligations regarding REACH,' says an EEB report on their investigation.

Many retailers confessed to being unable to find the products requested on their inventory or being unable to get information from suppliers. But EEB said ultimately retailers were responsible and required by law to have all relevant safety information.

'All citizens ought to be given full information about what properties of chemicals are in the products they buy. A parent, for instance, should automatically be informed whether a pencil case for their child contains phthalates which can impair sexual development,' said Christian Schaible, EEB Chemicals Policy Officer.

"Unfortunately, EU law forces consumers to repeatedly ask about chemicals in stores, and suppliers are only obliged to give information under specific conditions. However, we have shown that not even this legal right is guaranteed in practice', he added.

Carrefour did not respond to enquiries about the EEB investigation but a spokesperson for Tesco said it was aware of its requirements under REACH. 'We have a Restricted Chemicals Code of Practice in place for Clothing and Footwear that includes the SVHC's detailed in REACH. We have worked closely with our suppliers to identify these substances and have replaced them with suitable alternatives.'

While Tesco claims to be ever so “green” and has been getting awards for certain practiced there are other practices that are far from green and this is the same, it would appear, for a great majority of all such big companies, bar, maybe, the Co-operative, as regards to stores and others in the UK (and elsewhere).

Time they were not just held to account by the EU authorities but mostly and especially by the consumers. We have the power. We can vote with out feet and our wallets and hurt them where it hurts them; in their balance sheets.

© 2010