By Rowland Goddard, Director of Finance
Do you actually own what you buy? All of us are constantly purchasing new products with an electronic component. This could be a phone, computer, watch, car, dishwasher – the list is infinite. Over the past decade, these products have become more advanced and technical. This now means that it is increasingly difficult for the consumer to repair such products themself, and that’s okay. Not everyone has a computer engineering degree and knows all the ins and outs of what they buy. What is not okay, is for a manufacturer to suppress the availability of parts to limit who can and can’t repair a product without just cause. This is the unfortunate reality today.
Historically, gadgets were fairly easy to repair. For example, if you broke your cassette player, you could take it apart and fix it yourself. Today, if your phone battery malfunctions, you will have limited options to fix it and many consumers simply buy a new one. This becomes a dangerous habit as it develops a “throwaway economy” which is harmful for the environment. A record 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was dumped globally in 2019 and only 17.4% of electronics are properly recycled. The irony is in that most of the same companies that sell products that are difficult to repair are the ones that try to paint their brand as being environmentally friendly.
Apple products are a prime target of the right to repair movement. If you break your iPhone or MacBook, your options are limited for getting it fixed. If Apple or an Apple affiliated servicer was to fix it for you, the cost is designed to be great enough that it makes more sense to buy a new device. Additionally, going this route supports a throwaway economy as Apple often buys a new part instead of fixing the existing one. A second option would be to hire a third party to fix the issue. Although this is often significantly cheaper, any warranty would be void and also the consumer is susceptible to receiving non-genuine parts that could be more likely to fail. The last and easiest option is to buy a new device. The lack of autonomy to fix a device you paid for is done intentionally by Apple and other companies to boost consumerism.
The right to repair movement focuses on the option of going through a third party. For many people, this is the only option as the other two are outside their budget. It is becoming increasingly difficult for third party repair shops to fix a device. The schematics and parts to repair a new device are often simply not available. Manufacturers, such as Apple, have them locked down. They argue that encouraging third party repairs could lead to lesser quality and produce a poor brand image. As well, having schematics more accessible could lead to reverse engineering and copycat products could be produced.
The question has to be asked then. What can be done to support the right to repair movement? Two changes need to occur. First, culturally more people need to be invested in repairing their electronics and not simply buying a new one because it’s easy. Secondly, we need to pass laws that allow third parties to purchase needed components to repair broken devices. This will hopefully result in a less anti-competitive, anti-consumer, and anti-repair environment.