By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
The right to repair movement has seen some recent modest gains, as Ifixit.org reports in Right to Repair is already hurtling into action in 2019:
Over the last few years, the rag-tag Right to Repair coalition has scored a number of victories: legalizing cell phone unlocking in Congress, getting the FTC to rule “warranty void if removed” stickers null and void, and convincing the US Copyright office to grant a number of repair exemptions to federal copyright law. And in 2018 alone, Right to Repair made groundbreaking headway on the state level: 19 states introduced Right to Repair legislation—a big uptick from 12 repair-friendly states in 2017.
Here’s a list of the 2019 battlegrounds so far: Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia. Several more states are in the works.
Not only are US states considering enacting of considering whether to enshrine such a right. but the right to repair movement is spreading internationally, to include the EU, Australia, and New Zealand.
Consumers are increasingly fed up with paying for a product, and then finding out when it breaks down, that they’re tethered to the producer to provide repair services – at whatever ridiculous cost the company chooses to set.
The European Union
The EU has inserted proposed right to repair provisions into some parts of the EU Ecodesign Directive. The right to repair elements apply to large home appliances, such as refrigerators; lighting; and televisions, and aim to force manufacturers to make goods last longer and make them easier to repair by customers or third-party services.
The Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directive – Directive 2009/125EC – established a framework for setting ecodesign requirements for energy-related products (as discussed further here).
The BBC reports in Climate change: ‘Right to repair’ gathers force that the EU action is a response to several disturbing trends:
One study showed that between 2004 and 2012, the proportion of major household appliances that died within five years rose from 3.5% to 8.3%.
An analysis of junked washing machines at a recycling centre showed that more than 10% were less than five years old.
Another study estimates that because of the CO2 emitted in the manufacturing process, a long-lasting washing machine will generate over two decades 1.1 tonnes less CO2 than a short-lived model.
Many lamps sold in Europe come with individual light bulbs that can’t be replaced. So when one bulb packs in, the whole lamp has to be jettisoned.
The BBC describes the right to repair provisions as “complex and controversial”, and notes that manufacturers claim they will stifle innovation, while:
Consumer campaigners complain the EU Commission has allowed firms to keep control of the repair process by insisting some products are mended by professionals under the control of manufacturers.
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said: “This restricts the access of independent repairers to spare parts and information – and that limits the scope and affordability of repair services.” The EEB also wants other products like smart phones and printers included in the legislation.
As with so many other areas of EU regulation – plastics in a circular economy, for example, as I have discussed here – the EU provisions are a feeble response to the problem of excessive production. But they are a starting point.
Moving farther eastward, the topic of the right to repair has emerged in Australia, as I discussed most extensively here. Last June, Apple was fined for failing to offer free fixes for iPhones and iPads previously serviced by non-Apple stores and that developed a glitch known as “Error 53.” As I noted (quoting from a MarketWatch piece, Apple fined as Australian customers win right-to-repair court fight):
Under Australian law, customers are entitled to a repair or replacement, and sometimes a refund, if a product is faulty, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which sued Apple. Some Apple customers saw Error 53 as part of a general effort to prevent users from going to non-Apple stores for repairs.
Commissioner Sarah Court said Tuesday the Federal Court of Australia ruled Apple couldn’t cease consumer guarantees because an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple…
More recently, the subject of whether its farmers need a right to repair has emerged (see Do Australian Farmers need a Right to Repair? for further discussion).
New Zealand ministers have been watching European developments with an eye to borrowing some elements, as reported today in Right to repair under the international spotlight as EU politicians eye new rules in Stuff:
Commerce minister Kris Faafoi said the potential for longer-lasting products could only be a good thing for New Zealand.
“Bringing consumers longer-lasting products and reducing costs by enabling an after-market for repairs would benefit many New Zealanders, and the effect on the environment is another positive,” Faafoi said.
“However, as a small country it makes sense to see how these developments are working in jurisdictions ahead of us in implementation and to learn from that.”
Although New Zealand has yet to adopt a right to repair, its consumer protection framework imposes repair requirements on manufacturers – although many consumers are not aware of their rights:
Recent cases heard by the Disputes Tribunal established “relatively long periods for the reasonable durability for some goods”, [Mark Hollingsworth, consumer protection manager at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment,] said.
“The life expectancy of a particular fridge freezer with a 12-month manufacturer’s warranty was found by a a Disputes Tribunal Referee to be at least 10 years,” he said.
“The CGA still applies whether or not a manufacturer’s warranty has expired, and a consumer’s rights under the CGA still apply once any warranty has expired.”
Consumer advocates such as Sue Chetwin, chief executive of Consumer NZ, support right to repair rules “as too many appliances were being thrown out because there was no way to dismantle them to repair them.”
The Bottom Line
The right to repair war is far from won. But consumers have seen some recent modest victories. As I wrote in Four Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and…Repair, repair is a fourth element to the well-known three-R mantra which if enshrined in public policy and our personal practices, would go some way to reducing our collective carbon footprint.