Right to Repair Movement

The basic idea behind this movement is that any electronic product or other products should be designed to last longer, and therefore when broken, they should be repaired. The term ‘Right-to-Repair’ is not a relatively new term, and the movement traces its roots back to the very beginning of the computer era in the 1950s.

As part of the ‘right to repair’ movement, activists and organisations around the globe have been recommending the formulation of a set of laws/rules for the right of consumers to be able to repair their own electronics and other products.

This article will provide all the information related to the right-to-repair movement in the context of IAS Exam.

This article will be useful for writing Essay, and for preparing GS papers 2 and 3 as it touches upon the topics such as Environmental pollution & degradation, Government Policies & Interventions which are part of UPSC Syllabus.

The candidates can read more relevant information for their upcoming government exams from the links below:

What is ‘Right to Repair’?

  • Right to repair signifies the need to give users and third-party companies the required tools, parts and manuals to enable them to repair a product they have purchased on their own instead of depending on the manufacturers.
  • By doing this, it would ultimately increase the lifespan of products and keep them from ending up in landfills.

Need for ‘Right to Repair’ Laws

  • Environment – Manufacturing an electronic device uses environment polluting sources of energy, such as fossil fuels, and can be considered as a highly polluting process.
To know:

A New York Times report states that the mining and manufacturing materials used in making an iPhone “represent roughly 83 per cent of its contribution to the heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere throughout its life cycle”, according to manufacturing data released by Apple. It’s about 57 per cent for the average washing machine.

  • Economy – This movement will help boost small scale businesses (for instance, small repair shops), which are an important part of local economies.
  • Also, it will be a solution to combat monopoly of manufacturers on repairs. The lack of competition in the market has led to prices rise exponentially and quality dropping. Once the rules regarding right to repair are rolled out, the consumers will be able to hunt for the best deals as there will be multiple choices to pick.
  • Consumer – The right to repair rules are necessary in order to discourage electronic manufacturers who specifically design their devices which last a limited amount of time and become obsolete with time and induce the need for replacement.

Reactions from Tech companies

  • Large tech companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Tesla, have been advocating against the right to repair.
  • These companies argue 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 the right to repair advocacy, stating that such initiatives threaten data security and cyber-security. To read more about cybersecurity, check the linked article.
  • Generally, Apple allows repairs of its devices only by authorised technicians and doesn’t provide any spare parts or manuals on how to fix its products. But interestingly, the co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak supported the idea of ‘right to repair’ movement.
  • These companies also claim that they are working towards greater durability of their devices themselves.
  • Recently, Apple took more steps towards reducing its contribution to e-waste. It has expanded its free, independent repair provider programme in 200 countries and extended access to genuine spare parts, information on repairs and tools for out of warranty repairs.
  • Microsoft has pointed out how it improved the battery and hard drive of its third-generation Surface Laptop after it was criticised for making it next to impossible to replace the battery in older models.
  • Meanwhile, few other companies have also shown interest and support for this movement.

Global scenario

  • There is growing pressure on manufacturers around the world to allow consumers the right to repair their own devices.
  • United States
    • Recently, the US President signed an executive order to encourage economic competition which directed the Federal Trade Commission to force tech companies and manufacturers to allow consumers to repair their own devices – either by themselves or using a technician of third party repair shops. The farmers and cellphone manufacturers were specifically concentrated.
    • With this, some believe manufacturers of electronic devices may even start making their products more durable and long-lasting.
    • As of 2021, almost all the 50 US states have proposed a right to repair bill, however, only one, Massachusetts, has made it a law.
  • Europe
    • The UK government also introduced right-to-repair rules with the aim of extending the lifespan of products by up to 10 years.
    • The new legislation gives manufacturers a two-year gestation period to make the necessary changes to abide by the new legislation.
    • The aim is to reduce electrical waste, which has been on the rise in the continent due to a spike in manufacturing.

UPSC 2021

Way forward

  • Support repair-friendly manufacturers, and avoid the ones that aren’t.
  • To formulate effective right to repair rules.
  • Especially, countries like India need to adopt right to repair laws, in a scenario of increasing e-waste.

FAQ about Right to repair

What is the impact of right to repair on retailers?

The requirements of Right to Repair fall only on manufacturers – not their distributors, retailers, or even franchisees. Manufacturers will decide for themselves how best to deliver parts and information.

Has India adopted right to repair rules?

No, such legislations doesn’t exist in India. In India, the repairman does his best to fix the inevitable breakdowns, but this is not the case in the Europe or the US.
Other relevant links:

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