The Right to Repair: Why you should care about it

The right to repair has been a large part of the contemporary discourse in the 21st Century.

What started as an attempt to fix one’s own motor vehicle, has grown into a movement spanning continents and demographics. It includes those who wish to save money, the environment, or simply yearn for greater autonomy and choice by escaping the power of monopolies. But Right to Repair is something that should be involved in all forms of environmental and technological policy. DiEM25 recognises this and has included the Right to Repair in their Technological Sovereignty policy paper.

The history of the Right to Repair act, and why it matters in Europe.

In 2012 the United States automotive industry was presented with an act voted on by the people in the state of Massachusetts. 86% of voters were in favour of what became known as the Motor Vehicles Owners Right to Repair Act and it was passed into law November of that year. The passing of the law was to ensure that those who owned motor vehicles had access to parts, both 3rd party and Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), along with repair manuals instructing owners on how to repair their vehicles. This also gave the people a greater choice, as they were no longer beholden to using manufacturer specified repair centres and could access a wider range of mechanics and auto electricians if they chose not to complete the work themselves.

The Right to Repair has been a topic of discussion in Europe, with surveys showing 8 out of 10 Europeans are indicating their wish that manufacturers should be beholden to requirements allowing easier repair to digital devices. This was thrust into European parliament recently with a vote passing with aims to increase the lifetime of products.

As Chloé Mikolajczak, campaigner for the Right to Repair states:

“This vote shows that right to repair measures are backed by opinion polls but also by the European Parliament. The European Commission now needs to take this momentum and move forward swiftly in 2021 on an EU-wide repairability score for all electronic devices and repairability rules for computers and smartphones”

The vote was incredibly close, getting over the line secured by only 2 votes. Given that this is of course a win for Europeans, it is by no means an end to the fight. The proposal was met with opposition from liberalists and conservatives on the political and economic right, with common rhetoric surrounding de-regulation. These groups were noted to attempt to dilute the original proposal, something that goes against the 8 out of 10 Europeans wanting strong action to be taken.

DiEM25 is now in a perfect position to mobilise and take this fight, rallied by the cry of the people of Europe, to ensure that this vote is not the end.

The movement must ensure the European Commission is held accountable to the vote that was cast and that adequate, decisive and timely action is taken. As this is a vote with implications across Europe, it is high time for the bureaucratic elite to uphold their end of the deal and make good on the will of the people and parliamentary vote. If successful in its implementation this has the ability to allow freedom, creativity and choice to all Europeans. Creating convenience for individuals and groups, and also stemming the power structures companies have built which have stifled people’s freedom within market structures, including the freedom of autonomy over their personal property.

This vote is clearly a positive step, though companies and manufacturers have a long history throughout the global north of lobbying and loopholing their way through restrictions. DiEM25 must stand firm on their Technological Sovereignty policy and remain in strong standing with the people of Europe to keep the pressure on, preventing the tech-giants from escaping the voice and will of the people.

There is a long history of Technology companies hiding behind Intellectual Property laws, and Copyright acts in an attempt to shield themselves from allowing consumers to repair their products.

Some of the tactics used up to this point from the tech giants include: So-called anti-tinkering policies along with ‘void if opened’ warranty schemes which have taken product owners hostage when it comes to their devices/goods malfunctioning or breaking. By forcing consumers to either purchase a new product from the manufacturer or only use the manufacturers specified repair personnel, these companies have created a technology monopoly that has undermined the competitiveness of the market and removed choice from the people. This coercive power was granted to companies by the World Intellectual Property Organisation with something known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

DiEM25 has a strong policy that supports Right to Repair in Europe which predates the proposal put before parliament. This shows that the vote cast aligns with the aims of DiEM25 and as a movement they will champion the results of this vote for the people of Europe.

DiEM25’s Technological Sovereignty policy section 3.1.4 is cogent in its commitment to ensuring Right to Repair.

This policy will not allow these manufacturers to continue to flaunt IP as a reason for not releasing components onto the market. As it is currently, certain manufacturers that specialise in parts for certain technological goods are locked into binding agreements with large technology device manufacturers, which in turn prevents them from selling these parts to non-manufacturer specific repair businesses or to the general public.

This form of product gatekeeping has negatively affected the job market with many repair workers going out of business and needing to either re-skill or face unemployment. Moreover, it has robbed the consumer of all choice in terms of who repairs their products; products which they own.

This also means any handy or technology savvy person is unable to repair their own devices; again, channelling the public back to the manufacturer to solve their problems. There are also broader implications as failure to disseminate plans and specialised parts into the marketplace has encouraged a market for products to be made illegally with little oversight or regard for construction quality, sustainability, or workers’ rights.

The Technological Sovereignty policy proposed by DiEM25 will not only return the choice to the consumer, by demanding manufacturers release their parts and schematics onto the market. It will also stimulate a return of jobs to the market as repair businesses will again be able to open. This will provide the consumer with greater choice, open a viable market for non-OEM parts, and prevent waste as consumers will not be caught between a rock and a hard place deciding whether to pay the extortionate fee the manufacturer charges to repair or to buy a brand new product.

Planned obsolescence will become a thing of the past.

When it comes to buying brand new products, DiEM25 is addressing this as well. Planned Obsolescence is an old tactic proliferated by goods manufacturers, from cars, to whitegoods, through to smart technologies. This is a form of consumer manipulation, an attempt to ‘trap’ customers into a purchasing cycle every 12-24 months.

Companies achieve this by manufacturing products in such a way that certain componentry within them have a short life cycle. When this short life cycle is compounded on top of an inability to repair one’s own goods or seek a 3rd party who is able to carry out such a repair. Manufacturers are able to quote and charge inconceivably high prices to repair or replace the failed component. Often the quoted cost of repair is so high that it makes more economic sense to the consumer to simply purchase the latest iteration of the device.

This planned obsolescence creates an enormous amount of wastage, waging untold devastation on the environment and resources which are already scarce. Section 3.1.5 of DiEM25’s Technological Sovereignty policy addresses this planned obsolescence tactic by directing companies to make available spare parts, returning these goods to a more modular state. Further, the document states that to be in line with ecological demands the products should be made in a durable manner and technical specifications should be made available along with durability in mind in the construction of the products.

With these parts and technical documents entering the market, again, the humble repair centre will once again be able to operate, stimulating jobs. There will be a potential for manufacturing innovation, particularly in the realm of environmentally ethical parts manufacturing which consumers will be able to access through the market.

It was only a few generations ago when most electricians made the majority of their income through repairing toasters, fans, and other household items. When being a fridge mechanic didn’t mean being pigeonholed into the large industrial refrigerator field. And young children who grew up ‘tinkering’ with their electronic home-goods could have a viable economic future contributing to their societies in such a way. Society can return to that; Europe can return to that.

The days of the throw away economy are thankfully over, consumers don’t want to be so wasteful, they want the fairness and freedom of an open market, void of technocratic monopolies.

The objectives of DiEM25 and the Right to Repair campaigners in Europe and the parliamentarians who support Right to Repair are now able to align. Pressuring the European Commission to enact the will of Europeans by attacking planned obsolescence and enabling a strong Right to Repair policy for the Union. At the current writing of this, the European Commission plans to deliver on vote with new laws in 2021.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

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