A democratic state (e.g. the USA) trades of course products from foreign nations (e.g. China). Furthermore those democratic states have of course security/health/environment protection standards, which should ensure that the products the nation's citizen use are not damaging.

My question doesn't address products like drugs, cars, chemicals, child nutrition and such from foreign nations - as those are naturally more likely to be damaging or at least very sensitive. Therefore they do need of course an official approval that they meet those standards.

However, what about really small things, like artificial candles, pens, USB-sticks and cables?

It wouldn't make sense to test all those small things, because

  1. The number of products which have to be tested would be just too high and therefore wasting personal resources.
  2. This particular democratic state would then be much less attractive as an trade "target", because it would be just too difficult/expensive there.

On the other hand, although they are small and less likely to damage something (normally trade partners care about those standards, as otherwise not respecting them would maybe destroy their reputation in this particular state), they still could do heavy damage to a big amount of citizen: For instance, imagine even more poorly constructed batteries like the well known cases in widely use.

So therefore, my question is: How does a democratic state prevent such heavy damage caused by low quality, foreign products?

1: I assumed that an democratic state cares more and honestly about their citizen's protection. I don't think in a dictatorship has equal or even more protective rights than a democratic state. Therefore, I also assumed, dictatorships have very little protective rights and therefore the limitation of the question. So I've just used the term "democratic" in my question above to emphasize the direction of my question.

Also I think, this question is addressable to national/local low quality products, but I think foreign low qualities is more interesting.

  • democratic state, or not democratic state! what is "democratic" 's role here?
    – user 1
    May 4, 2016 at 17:37
  • @user1 does my edit satisfy your question?
    – uuu
    May 4, 2016 at 17:44
  • 1
    Electrical Engineering Stackexchange lately had an interesting question about how frighteningly dangerous Lithium batteries can be without proper control circuitry.
    – Philipp
    May 4, 2016 at 18:52
  • Re-examine your premise: these United States aren't a democracy. May 4, 2016 at 20:35
  • The only difference between domestic and foreign product quality is that it's possible to go to a domestic factory. However, in practice, governments rarely do that until a problem is found. And it can still happen with a foreign company, although it is generally the foreign government that does that.
    – Brythan
    May 4, 2016 at 20:45

2 Answers 2


Most Western countries have consumer protection laws which forbid to sell a dangerous product to consumers. When such products are sold anyway, the person who sold it can be made liable, which would be the local store, not the foreign company which originally produced it. Such laws often also apply to apparently harmless consumer products like those mentioned in the question. Electrical devices in particular have usually lots of safety rules which apply to them, because a badly wired electrical device can be a fire hazard (even when it's a low-voltage device like an USB drive).

For example, any technical device which is sold in the European Union must have a CE marking.

While manufacturers are responsible for ensuring product compliance and affixing the CE marking, importers must make sure that the products they place on the market comply with the applicable requirements and do not present a risk to the European public. The importer has to verify that the manufacturer outside the EU has taken the necessary steps and that the documentation is available upon request.

It is of course impossible to check every single battery which is sold, but when the failure rate of a certain product line becomes higher than statistically likely, it will trigger an investigation. When it turns out that it does not fulfill the minimum standards demanded by law, the local shops which sell it will have to recall the product, which does not just cause financial losses and image damage to them but might also make them liable for damages they have caused to their customers. For that reason, companies which import goods from abroad usually force the manufacturer to guarantee that the product fulfills the local safety standards or pay a hefty contractual penalty when it turns out that they don't.

However, consumer protections standards are a topic of international trade agreements. They are, for example, an important issue in the current negotiations of the TTIP agreement between the United States and the European Union. Both sides want to get the other to lower certain consumer protection standards to make trade easier.

  • Although it exceeds the spectrum of this question, can you provide evindence about your claim Both sides want to get the other to lower certain consumer protection standards to make trade easier. ?
    – uuu
    May 4, 2016 at 18:38
  • Good answer. It would be improved if you could cite something about when investigations are triggered. This isn't common knowledge and a reader might want to know more. May 4, 2016 at 18:39
  • 1
    @toogley ttip-leaks.org
    – Philipp
    May 4, 2016 at 18:54
  • @indigochild That would be too broad, because such details vary a lot from country to country.
    – Philipp
    May 4, 2016 at 18:55
  • @Philipp That's true, but the OP specifically mentions the US as an example. That might help narrow it down. Again, just as an example - not a thorough analytic solution. May 4, 2016 at 19:22

There is no difference here between democratic states and non-democratic states' both can sell bad products. Not only it is possible that product with a democratic-state origin can be harmful, But in some cases a democratic state sold the most Destructive products to a dictator like Saddam:

52% of Saddam 's chemical weapon equipment was of German origin.
One of the contributions was a £14m chlorine plant known as "Falluja 2", built by Uhde Ltd, a UK subsidiary of a German company; the plant was given financial guarantees by the UK's Export Credits Guarantee Department despite official UK recognition of a "strong possibility" the plant would be used to make mustard gas. The guarantees led to UK government payment of £300,000 to Uhde in 1990 after completion of the plant was interrupted by the first Gulf War.[4] In 1994 and 1996 three people were convicted in Germany of export offenses (see here.).

  • I think you misread the question. It is about consumer products, not weapons of mass destruction and it is about importing dangerous goods, not exporting them.
    – Philipp
    May 4, 2016 at 18:07
  • 1.exporting from one side is importing for other. 2. I stress on the word democratic state and want to say: There is no difference here between democratic states and non-democratic states both can sell bad products; my reason here is that they can even sell weapon.
    – user 1
    May 4, 2016 at 18:13
  • @user1 you are totally correct. I've just used the term "democracy" to emphasize the direction of my question. => I don't think in a dictatorship has equal or even more protective rights than a democratic state. I assumed they have very little protective rights and therefore the limitation of the question.
    – uuu
    May 4, 2016 at 18:35
  • Sorry for my unclear wording.
    – uuu
    May 4, 2016 at 18:39

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