Amazon slapped with fine in U.K. for shipping dangerous goods by air

Earlier this week, the Southwark Crown Court imposed a US$84,000 fine against Amazon for a series of parcels containing “dangerous goods” that the e-commerce giant attempted to dispatch by air between January 2014 and June 2015. The packages, absent any labels declaring the potentially unsafe contents, contained aerosol deodorant and loose-packed lithium-ion batteries, which were discovered only after the cargo underwent pre-departure screening by Royal Mail.

The case against Amazon UK Services was brought by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), under the Air Navigation Regulations of 2002, which outlines, according to U.K. law, how such items must be handled when transported by air. Complete guidelines may be found here , but in short, the Air Navigation Regulations directed how to classify and categorize dangerous goods, as well as label and document parcels containing items like lithium batteries and aerosols. Under U.K. law, loose lithium battery shipments are banned from carriage as cargo on passenger flights, “unless they are installed in, or packed with, equipment.”

Amazon, for its part, blamed human error for the shipments. A spokesman for the company added: “The safety of the public, our customers, employees and partners is an absolute priority. We ship millions of products every week and are confident in the sophisticated technologies and processes we have developed to detect potential shipping hazards. We are constantly working to further improve and will continue to work with the CAA in this area.”

The fine comes shortly after industry organizations such as IATA and TIACA jointly launched a campaign to crack down on what they call “rogue lithium battery shipments.” They contend that when shippers comply with IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations, the precautions and safety handling procedures are more than adequate.

Retailers like Amazon, and the shipments involved in the case, pose much less of a threat to security, than do the small minority of manufacturers and exporters that intentionally choose to ship noncompliant shipments of lithium batteries, IATA contended. Improving the safety of lithium battery shipments, IATA’s recently retired Director General Tony Tyler said, thus requires government authorities to “take responsibility for regulating rogue producers and exporters. Rules are only effective if they are backed up by significant penalties.”

Such acts of disregard for safety regulations “must be criminalized,” Tyler added. Many of these shipments however, are not in the U.K. Most of the world’s lithium batteries are made in China, which is also the source of the greatest number of rogue shipments.

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