/Broke your smartphone? Right to repair rules just took another step forward

Broke your smartphone? Right to repair rules just took another step forward

‘Right to repair’ calls on manufacturers to make it easier for consumers to fix their own devices and to be more transparent about the lifespan of their products.

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Europe has taken a significant step towards introducing better device repair rules for consumers.

Image: iStock/ golubovy

The European Parliament has voted in favor of “right to repair” rules for Europe that would make it easier for consumers to repair their own devices, while also cracking down on practices used by manufacturers to shorten the lifespan of their products.

Earlier this year the European Commission announced plans for new “right to repair” rules covering smartphones, tablets and laptops in 2021, as part of wider efforts to tackle e-waste and help Europe on its path to achieve climate-neutrality by 2050.

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The proposal seeks to make repairs more appealing and easier to access by consumers, either by extending guarantees from manufacturers, providing guarantees for replaced parts, or by providing better access to information on device repair and maintenance.

On Wednesday 25 November, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in support of the proposal, with the resolution on a more sustainable single market adopted with 395 in favor and 94 opposed.

European Commissioners are now being called on to develop and introduce a labelling system for products sold in stores and online to help consumers understand how repairable a product is.

The EU is also being urged to ban practices by hardware makers “aimed at intentionally shortening the lifetime of a product, such as preventing repair at the design stage or causing a slowdown in performance after a software update” – otherwise known as planned obsolescence.

The practice of “greenwashing” by device makers – a marketing tactic through which brands imply that they are eco-friendly or sustainable without actually providing any evidence to back up their claims – would also be curbed under the proposals.

French Member of European Parliament (MEP), David Cormand, said: “By adopting this report, the European Parliament sent a clear message: harmonized mandatory labelling indicating durability and tackling premature obsolescence at EU level are the way forward.”

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Implications of the proposals – if passed into law – are manifold. Manufacturers could be encouraged to considerably extend warranties on their devices, or reconsider the materials they use in building their products. For consumers, “right to repair” rules could make it easier for them to replace, say, a laptop battery or display themselves at home, using instructions provided by the OEM.

Alternatively, the rules could give consumers more freedom to use cheaper, independent services to carry out repairs on their devices, rather than having to rely on the OEM – a practice that device makers aren’t too keen on, and often means consumers voiding the warranty on their purchase.

According to a Eurobarometer survey, 77% of EU citizens would rather repair their devices than replace them, while 79% think that manufacturers should be legally obliged to facilitate the repair of digital devices or the replacement of their individual parts.

In France, reparability ratings will be introduced for smartphones, laptops, washing machines, TVs and lawn mowers starting in January 2021. This is expected to be expanded to more categories of products.

Any changes to EU legislation will, of course, take time, and it’s hard to predict at this point exactly how manufacturers will be impacted by the new rules. Even so, the vote is a big win for consumers, and will put pressure on manufacturers to start being more transparent about the reparability and the durability of their products.  

Matthias Huisken, director of advocacy for iFixit Europe, said: “This is a huge win for consumers across Europe. This vote will set in motion a wave of new repair-friendly policies, from repair scores at retail to product longevity disclosures.”

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