Temu products found to contain dangerously high levels of harmful metals in shocking documentary which reveals how the Chinese retailer ‘harvests data’ from buyers – after girl, 11, was severely burned by nail glue she bought from the platform

A shocking documentary has explored the dark side of Temu and found shocking discoveries about the products it sells on its platform.

Known for marketing anything and everything, from children’s clothing to BB guns at a dirt-cheap price, the Chinese-based company, which allows thousands of businesses to sell their products, has grown massively since it launched less than two years ago.

The app has around 15million UK users and generates profit by cutting out the middleman, with the merchants sending the item directly to the buyer. Temu’s parent company is worth an estimated £170bn ($216billion). 

The brand also boasts a large US customer-base – American shoppers made up 60% of all customers in 2023. The company also targeted American consumers with multiple Super Bowl Ads in February.  

But several concerns have been raised over its practices and the quality of its products, after it controversially offered shoppers enormous discounts in return for use of their personal data, and a father claimed his 11-year-old daughter had suffered third-degree burns using nail glue bought from the site.

The Truth About Temu: Dispatches, which airs on Channel 4 tonight at 8pm, puts the platform (and its products) under the microscope – and finds Temu is selling items which contain dangerously high levels of lead.

Concerns have been raised about Temu after 11-year-old Chloe Norris was left in hospital after her father bought her an at-home manicure set from the online outlet
Chloe, from Kent, was left with severe third-degree burns after she bought the nail glue with her own money at the beginning of December
Channel 4 Dispatches investigative reporter Ellie Flynn sets out to explore the quality and safety of its products

In the 30 minute programme she purchases many different items from the website and put them through rigorous testing, along with checking the legitimacy of products approved by external organisations. 

She bought a silver effect necklace for £2.17, a gold effect chain for £2.97, and a children’s jacket jacket for £11.09. None of the items listed any ingredients on the website.

Ellie sent these items off to a toxicology lab for testing to see whether the materials used in them were safe. 

But the findings shocked Laurence Harwood, a professor of organic chemistry, University of Reading, who said he was ‘very concerned’ about the contents of the items. 

The silver necklace contained 10 times more lead than is legally allowed in the UK. The gold chain also had the harmful metal in the clasp of the jewellery piece.

The clasp contained 17mg per kg of lead and another part had 26.7mg per kg of lead, much higher than what is permissible and two times more lead than what is allowed in the UK.

Professor Harwood said: ‘When lead builds up in the body, often over months or years, even small amounts of lead can lead to serious health problems [such as] reduced sperm count, miscarriages [and] stillbirth.’

The gold chain also had 27 times more Cadmium than the UK allows, a metal that with prolonged exposure, has been linked to kidney damage and bone degradation, according to the documentary.

The children’s jacket that Ellie bought from the site had 82.5mg per kg of antimony in brown material and 33.6mg per kg in the leather part of the jacket.

The clasp of the gold chain contained 17mg per kg of lead and the trigger had 26.7mg per kg of lead
Professor Laurence Harwood was very concerned about the findings and said exposure to toxic metals can severely impact your health

Professor Harwood said: ‘These are absolutely unacceptable higher levels of antimony. Over a long period of time this could have very, very bad effects on the body, in particular the nervous system.’

He was most concerned about this material, despite there being no restrictions on how much antimony can be used in clothes. 

He added: ‘I’m very concerned [by these results]. Children younger than six are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning and this could have all sorts of effects on mental development and physical development. 

‘In pregnant women, it can cause stillbirth. It can cause neurological issues in old and young alike.’

In response to these findings, Temu told Channel 4 that their tests did confirm some items exceeded acceptable limits for heavy metals, that these have been permanently removed and that they were working with the merchants involved.

It stated: ‘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.’

Elsewhere in the documentary, Ellie found herself feeling increasingly drawn into the Temu app and wanted to explore why this was.

She said: ‘It’s got all of these spinning wheels for prizes and deals, flash sales, there’s even a section where you can play games.

‘It feels like everything the app is doing is designed to try and keep you entertained and stimulated and on the app for as long as possible.’

Ellie commissioned an expert in brainwave technology to measure her pleasure responses to Temu, Amazon and a gambling app.    

She put on a headset to see how stimulated she gets using these three apps, used each one for ten minutes and bought the same amount of items on both Amazon and Temu.

Ellie said the Temu app has spinning wheels and prizes on to engage their customers (stock image)

Speaking about her results, Tre Azam, CEO of MyndPlay said: ‘The Temu app kind of sits in between [Amazon and the gambling app]. 

‘What we were seeing was more of an up and down journey, similar to the gambling [app].

‘But 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.

‘But the average pleasure was higher all the way through. I think there could be a risk of [addiction] to the Temu app.’

Nina Jane Patel, emerging technology consultant: ‘[Temu] is gameifying the shopping experience but on steroids, they are alluring aesthetics, they’re cartoon-like, they’re playful.’

Temu told the documentary: ‘Gamificiation elements.. are inspired by activities at funfairs and shopping malls [and]… 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.’ 

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Vice Chair, all-party parliamentary group gambling related harm also expressed concern – not only for the ‘gambling-like’ elements of the app, but also for the personal data belonging to Brits.

He said: ‘I think the Temu system is based on gambling technology. Instead of gambling on the outcome of something, [you] are gambling to get cheaper products. 

‘It’s based very much on the way gambling companies work to get you addicted to their products.’

Temu also presented its customers with an ‘offer’ to get a £50 voucher, but the catch was that you had to agree to permanently hand over considerable amounts of personal data.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘The Chinese government demands data from Temu, from any Chinese company, [and] under the national security law, they are obliged to hand it over.

‘I believe almost all of these companies, like Temu, are data-harvesters. One of their prime purposes is to sift data, first of all collect it and then pass it on to the intelligence services.

‘[They] will then sift through to see if there is anything of interest, anybody of interest, any job that someone is in which is interesting. 

‘The job of the government is to defend people from that kind of theft of their personal data. The UK is slow on the pickup on this.’

Temu said that its data practices are clearly stated in its terms and conditions on its website.

But when Ellie goes online to read how her data will be used and stored, it flashes up for just seconds before it redirects her back to the login page.

She said: ‘Alarm bells are sounding, why won’t they let you read the terms and conditions?’

UK consumer rights laws, even foreign companies that market their products to the UK market need to make their privacy policies viewable, according to the documentary. 

Temu later said it had found a bug ‘affecting a small number of users’ and that it had now ‘been fixed’.

In response to its controversial £50 voucher offer, Temu said: ‘It respects user privacy [and] used only chosen names and profile pictures to identify gift senders / recipients and partially redacted information for reward winners.’

The company added that ‘it has never provided user data to the Chinese government nor would we do so if asked’.

Temu offers its customers many different items, from children’s clothing, to jewellery, to power tools and climbing equipment. 

Ellie purchased some pliers from the website which claim to have been certified by VDE, an institute that tests electrical products.

Hendrick Schafer, from the testing department at VDE, said: ‘These products that you have provided are not certified by the VDE institute.’

The pliers appeared online with a VDE certificate that contained a code on it but when typed into the institute’s system, another company’s name popped up.

VDE suggested that the documents had been forged.

Hendrick said: ‘The 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 definitely have consequences for this manufacturer. If the certification is not correct, the insulation of these handheld tools are maybe not properly done. 

‘The result could be an electric shock and in the worst case, the shock could lead to death.’

Temu said: ‘We do not allow forgeries and will take action against any sellers involved if such cases are found.’

Ellie also found some carabiners on the website, a piece of equipment that rock climbers rely on for their safety, as it carries most of their weight.

Compared to carabiners available elsewhere, Temu was offering them at a third of the price.

They were advertised as being certified by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA).

Ellie travelled to Manchester to find out if this claim was true.

Nick Galpin, a UIAA Safety Commission member said: ‘The UIAA would not have their mark, ever, on a carabiner or certified product that did not hold a manufacturer’s mark.’

Temu said: ‘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 for the resumption of sales only after this issue is corrected.’

Ellie also found medical equipment being sold on Temu, such as reusable hot & cold gel packs, dressings for wounds and plasters that say they are FDA-approved.

The FDA – the US government department that regulates medical equipment – said they have not certified or approved any of the products she sent them because it does not issue certificates. 

In response to this, Temu said that the medical products have been removed and they are conducting a thorough review of other products claiming FDA approval to ensure they do not describe their registration status as approval or certification.

Ellie also attempts to purchase restricted tools without getting her age verified.

She managed her hands on a box of sharp and dangerous tools, including BB guns with no questions asked. 

Temu said: ‘We have been testing an age-verification system in the UK and expect to roll it out soon.’ 

During the documentary, Ellie also decides to test out a baby walker that was being sold on the website for £2.68.

It was advertised as suitable for those up to three years old and the average weight of a child of this age is around 15kg. 

Ellie, who is a mother herself, put it to the test by putting a bag of sand that weighed 15kg inside it and the product immediately snapped after just seconds.

She said: ‘It is obviously slightly ridiculous testing this in a park with a couple of sandbags that are meant to be children, but the point is if people are buying these and expecting to put their kids in it at the advertised weight then they’re relying on that advertising to be accurate and they’re relying on these products to be safe.’

Temu said an independent lab test said the product held 15kg weight for two hours without an issue but said it would look into this further. 

The Chinese company said it 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.’

Temu told Femail: ‘Temu takes the safety of products sold by third-party merchants on our platform 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, demonstrating that customer safety is our top priority. 

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