What you can repair is what you own

By Abhay Pachauri on Nov. 30, 2020 in Perspectives

Last year, European Union has ratified the ‘Right to Repair’ regulation. According to these regulations, the manufacturers of the household electronic appliances i.e. lighting, washing machines, dish washers, and refrigerators, will have to make it easier for the consumers to get them repaired. Though the regulations does not include every aspect of the ‘Right to Repair’ movement, as the activist claim, but it’s one of the starting step to be taken by developed countries in giving the consumers the ‘liberty to own’. Not only the EU, some US states are also thinking of implementing similar regulations in their respective states.

You can own a product, but cannot save it from dying. With the Right to repair, this paradigm will change. A ‘right to repair’ refers to a consumer’ ability to have faulty goods repaired at a competitive price by a manufacturer, a third-party, or in some instances, self-repair, using available replacements parts and having access to information to make the repairs.  

What are the regulations about?

The recently implemented regulation are part of measures taken by the EU to implement the Ecodesign directive. It is an effective tool for improving the energy efficiency of products. It helps eliminate the least performing products from the market, significantly contributing to the EU’s 2020 energy efficiency objective. There are other non-EU countries like USA, Australia and Brazil among some, which have legislations similar to that of EU but the latter become the first to have an effective ‘Right to Repair’ regulations.

The regulations, other than easing the repair of the household electronic appliances, also includes the manufacturers liability to supply the spare parts of the product for up to 10 years, ensuring that these appliances could be easily disassembled with common available tools, in addition to make them last longer. The rules further provide to make such appliances more user friendly.

The regulations are effective on the household appliances only and does not include our favourite smartphones within the domain. There was a long demand to include them within these regulation. A report from environmental groups recently stated that extending the lifespan of smartphones by just one year would significantly reduce carbon emission in the European Union. As smartphones has the largest impact climate impact, the inclusion to have proved to be boon for the EU Climate sustenance goals.

Why was this necessary?

Suppose you bought sophisticated device, say an expensive Refrigerator. After the warranty period, you come across some difficulty in the cooling. What you will do? Obviously, get it fixed. But when you went to a nearby repair shop, you came to know that the compressor needs to be changed, which is not available in the market. This forces you to go to the authorised company’s service centre to get that changed, whose billing can cost you a hand and a leg.

With the passing of regulations giving effect to the right to repair, the manufactures will be obliged to provide the repair documentation and spare parts of the electronics to the consumers or to independent repair shops.

The curious case of Apple

In December 2017, it was discovered that Apple was intentionally slowing down phones with older batteries. They defended this tactic by saying it was intended to reduce performance issues, but had many people wondering if Apple was covertly pushing people to upgrade to a new phone. What you do when your car gets a dead battery or a flat tyre? Did you switch to a new car or you get that battery or tyre fixed. Almost all the consumers will go for the second option. In the Apples’ case, the company stated that the issue can be resolved by replacing the battery, which Apple Inc. doesn’t make available to customers or third-party businesses.

Isn’t this a sense of coercion on the consumers which the manufactures do by creating a sense of vacuum where there is no competition in the market so that they could charge exorbitantly and make a bank?

But in August 2019, Apple announced New Independent Repair Provider Programme to sell parts, tools and repair guides to independent shops so they can fix broken iPhones. Though the same comes with some conditions, it’s a big U-turn for a company which has spent years lobbying against the introduction of ‘right to repair’ laws. Such type of programmes could help save the right of a triangle consisting of manufacturer, consumers and independent repairers offering a safe repair of the product.

Ill-Effects on the consumers

There are various problems faced by the consumer in the absence of Right to Repair.

  • Affecting of livelihood – In the present day modern world, it is very difficult to stay apart from the essential gadgets and devices which have become part of the daily lives. The authorised service centres of reputed companies do exactly what you did not want them to do – they take time to repair. The component which can be repaired by your next door in couple of hours to a day, takes around a week to get alright.
  • Charging high cost of repair – One would have bought an appliance by paying a substantial amount of his saving and to further repair it exclusive of warranty he needs to pay another hefty supply from his salary. The exorbitant cost which are imposed at the company’s service centres cuts down much lower in the general market for the similar repair. Similar point was raised by Stephane Arditi of the European Environment Bureau.(See here)
  • Only option is replacing – When the device gets old, its actual market value also diminishes. When it gets damaged, the actual cost for repair at most of the times will be around 40%-50% of the similar product along with upgrades. So, technically at most of the time, the only option you have is to replace the same and buy a new one.
  • Conveyance cost – There are certain manufacturers which have a specific feature added to their product. Issues related to such feature can only be resolved by that manufacturer only and cost an additional charge over the owner. E.g. – John Deere installs digital locks on some of its equipment, which blocks anyone but an authorized John Deere repair technician from performing repairs. (See here) For a farmer to bring a non-working tractor from village to workshop will cost him an additional charge which unwillingly he needs to pay.
  • Monopoly creation – Such kind of regressive practices arises an unhealthy competition in the market. This creates a monopoly of the manufacturers against other, which they exploit to have a better control on the supply of products, which they produce, in the market. They can control the supply by discontinuing the production of the necessary components, and thus letting the product die.
  • The Job Crisis – The positive argument for the implementation of ‘’Right to repair’ will be that its implementation definitely lead to an additional creation of jobs for the repair technicians that would emerge out of this shift in policy and industry practice.

Saving the mother earth

With the increasing awareness and apparent effects of Climate Change being observed, there was an increasing demand to reduce the electronic waste. Such types of regulations are a stepping stones towards saving carbon emissions and using the electronic resources more wisely. Australia and its jungle crisis

Libby Peake from the think tank Green Alliance told BBC News: “The new rules are a definite improvement. We think they could have been better, but it’s good news that at last politicians are waking up to an issue that the public have recognised as a problem for a long time. The new rules will benefit the environment and save resources.” (See here)

This was necessary to give effect to the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN and the commitments which the world demands from the leaders of the countries who assemble in the Climate Change Conference every year with little or no braveries to implement Climate saving measures.

Concern for the Manufacturers

In order to do the repairs, the consumers or the independent repair shops, other than the spare parts and service information, need a wholesome accessibility to the specialised tools and software’s. That’s where the things gets tricky.

Some manufacturers are afraid that the independent repairers might not have the required skill, techniques, and repair machines, which may lead to poor repair and damaging the machine, which might potentially render them dangerous.

Digital Europe, one industry group said: “We understand the political ambition to integrate strict energy and resource efficiency aspects, but we are concerned that some requirements are either unrealistic or provide no added value. The draft regulations limit market access, deviate from internationally-recognised best practices and compromise intellectual property.”(See here)

Last year we have surpassed 50 million metric tonnes of E-waste.

It’s Viability in India

India, being a developing country and home to highest population of people living below poverty, must think to imbibe such laws in its legal system. The extra cost of repair pose a burden on the lower-middle and middle class strata. With the unemployment rate going high, and the slow economy also marks a burden on India, which is in a sheer need of some economic miracle.

India is also a signatory of the Paris agreement to limit Climate change and curb the emission of greenhouse gases. Therefore, in addition to the societal and welfare obligation, it also need to fund its programme working for the Climate Change. In such situations, the Electronic waste and its disposal is a worrisome task for the authorities.

The passing of ‘Right to repair’ laws can act as a measure to assist the government in controlling above evils to a reasonable level, although not eradicating the same in toto.

Conclusion

As the liberty principle applies, you must have full control over the product which you own. Every person has the right to enjoy, manage and alienate his belonging, be it movable or immovable. But such right gets limited applicability, in case of electronic appliances, due to the policies of the manufacturers. With the changes coming in the western world, it’s time that we become aware of our Liberty to own. As it has been said, ‘If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it.’

First published by Legally India on 20 Mar. 2020



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