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The ‘right to repair’ movement

Context:

Recently the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) voted unanimously to make a push for the right of consumers to repair their electronic devices.

The ‘Right to Repair’ movement has been making the case for allowing people to fix the products they buy.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Environmental Pollution & Degradation), GS-II: Governance (Government Policies and Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Increased Wastage in the era of mobile computing
  2. Issues with repair and wastage in the past
  3. So, what is the right to repair movement?
  4. Do electronic manufacturers oppose this movement?
  5. Right to repair in Europe

Increased Wastage in the era of mobile computing

  • A new era of mobile computing and consumer culture was born with Apple iPhone which led to a boom in the Smartphones market and now the success of the mobile computing industry has nudged users into upgrading their devices instead of fixing them when something went wrong.
  • Before the smartphone era, issues in a mobile device could be repaired by the user themselves. However, now a buyer has to take it to an authorised dealer as any warranty on the product would become null and void if they opened the back of the smartphone.
  • To make it even more discouraging to repair a smartphone, the cost of repair could be high and the availability of spare parts could be too low.

Issues with repair and wastage in the past

  • In 2018, an Australian court ordered Apple to pay a penalty of Australian $9 million ($6.6 million) after it told its customers it wouldn’t do free repairs for devices that stopped working due to a software glitch.
  • Hardware is only one part of the problem as an increasing number of consumer products are run on software, and a technical glitch can only be fixed by an authorised technician.
  • Tinkerers and large corporations are fighting to solve the issue of who owns the information needed to fix a device.

So, what is the right to repair movement?

  • Activists and organisations around the world have been advocating for the right of consumers to be able to repair their own electronics and other products as part of the ‘right to repair’ movement. The movement traces its roots back to the very dawn of the computer era in the 1950s.
  • The goal of the movement is to get companies to make spare parts, tools and information on how to repair devices available to customers and repair shops to increase the lifespan of products and to keep them from ending up in landfills.
  • They argue that these electronic manufacturers are encouraging a culture of ‘planned obsolescence’ — which means that devices are designed specifically to last a limited amount of time and to be replaced. This, they claim, leads to immense pressure on the environment and wasted natural resources.
  • Manufacturing an electronic device is a highly polluting process. It makes use of polluting sources of energy, such as fossil fuel, which has an adverse impact on the environment.
  • Right to repair advocates also argue that this will help boost business for small repair shops, which are an important part of local economies. If a manufacturer has monopoly on repairs, then prices rise exponentially and quality tends to drop, they say.

Do electronic manufacturers oppose this movement?

  • Large tech companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Tesla, have been lobbying against the right to repair. Their argument is that opening up their intellectual property to third party repair services or amateur repairers could lead to exploitation and impact the safety and security of their devices.
  • Tesla, for instance, has fought against right to repair advocacy, stating that such initiatives threaten data security and cyber security.
  • These companies are constantly claiming that they are working towards greater durability themselves.

Right to repair in Europe

  • The UK government introduced right-to-repair rules with the aim of extending the lifespan of products by up to 10 years.
  • Manufacturers of products like washing machines, TVs and refrigerators are required to make spare parts available to people purchasing electrical appliances.
  • The new legislation gives manufacturers a two-year window to make the necessary changes to abide by the new legislation.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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