As parliaments around the world adopt ESG agendas, one popular development is “right-to-repair” legislation. Repairability policies will have significant consequences for manufacturers and consumers. We spoke to Harrison Covington, consultant at FiscalNote, and Justin Rzepka, executive director of the Consumer Access to Repair (CAR) Coalition, about key right-to-repair policy developments around the world and their potential impact on the corporate world.
Right-to-repair policies aim to make manufactured goods and devices longer lasting by giving owners the right to independently repair and modify their devices. In the broader context of the ESG movement and the move toward more sustainable and fair economies, repairability has become popular among consumers, ticking social and environmental boxes.
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Right to Repair Around the World
Repairability has become a key legislative focus around the world, but there are some differences among regions.
“Recent EU proposals have focused on obligating vendors to repair or replace defective products,” explains Covington. If passed, the EU’s proposed right-to-repair laws would take effect in two years. “However, these proposals do not address the need for access to independent third-party repairs to ensure access and affordability,” he notes. While the EU initially led the charge on repairability, other regions now appear to be overtaking.
Right-to-repair legislation in the U.S. has been largely focused on technology, agricultural equipment, and the automotive sector. “According to the Bureau of Labor, [the costs of vehicle repair] are up almost 20 percent in the past year,” explains Rzepka. “For consumers, the lack of access to vehicle data and the limited availability of collision parts are some of the reasons for these increased costs.”
Two pieces of legislation, the REPAIR Act and the SMART Act, have been proposed to address these points, and have been gaining ground in Washington, D.C. “These federal bills, which will lower costs for automotive consumers, are also bringing additional focus to the right-to-repair issue at the state level,” explains Rzepka.
Massachusetts is the first state to enact right-to-repair laws for the automotive sector, while Maine is set to broach the topic later this year. “Automotive right to repair is adding to the broader movement with Apple’s endorsement of a California right to repair bill and laws passing in several states on Agriculture equipment including Colorado,” says Rzepka.
Overall, only three states enacted right-to-repair legislation in 2023 sessions but, according to Covington, more than 20 states introduced bills on this topic.
Smaller, more niche right-to-repair movements are also underway in other regions. India began work on a right-to-repair framework in 2021, the same year the UK enacted right-to-repair policies. Australia also passed a right-to-repair law and a data-sharing scheme for the automotive sector.
How Right-to-Repair Policy Will Impact Industry
A handful of industries will be particularly disrupted by right-to-repair legislation, including the consumer electronics, automotive, and agriculture industries.
Consumer electronics take most of the spotlight in right-to-repair discussions. “Apple is a prime example of a technology company that curates unique compatibility with charging and auxiliary cables and limits software durability to drive consumers toward new product lines,” explains Covington. Comprehensive right-to-repair legislation could wipe out this traditionally profitable strategy.
Beyond profitability concerns, right-to-repair might exacerbate other kinds of risk, including cybersecurity. “Without protected software and schematics, technology companies must find innovative ways to limit cybersecurity risk on electronic devices and shield intellectual property,” Covington says.
How Right-to-Repair Laws Will Affect Design and Production
Right-to-repair legislation is likely to have a lasting impact on the way manufacturers design, produce, price, and dispose of goods. Although these laws are designed to benefit consumers, some unintended consequences may emerge as manufacturers grapple with the realities of repairability concerns. For example, manufacturers may compromise on quality to create margin for expected repair costs or simply use offers of ‘free repairs’ to artificially inflate prices.
Opportunities for Corporations
Consumers are overwhelmingly supportive of right-to-repair legislation, which means there is a significant opportunity for corporations that embrace this new way of manufacturing. Brands that display public support of right-to-repair and clearly communicate their efforts to make devices more durable and repairable may win the favor of consumers and demonstrate future readiness to investors and stakeholders.
In preparation for what is likely to be inevitable right-to-repair legislation, Covington advises that companies have some work to do. “Tech companies must shore up cybersecurity practices, identify the most common repair needs, and generalize their software, semiconductor diagrams, data sheets, service parts, and necessary components to common repairs,” he explains. “These steps will allow companies to continue to protect their I.P. while maintaining ease of compliance with right-to-repair regulations for the foreseeable future.”
Forward-thinking manufacturers will move beyond compliance concerns to address the problem at its source. “Manufacturers should likely adjust product designs to enhance the overall durability and longevity of products,” notes Covington, “reducing the need for repair and the burden of compliance with new and existing regulations.”
The Future of Right-to-Repair Legislation
Despite the popularity of right-to-repair laws, the future is not entirely straightforward. “Presumably, right-to-repair legislation will begin to pass overwhelmingly with adjusted language that severely limits the scope of the provisions,” explains Covington. We are also likely to see a greater focus on environmental concerns, such as e-waste. Final legislation will no doubt reflect a compromise between what consumers want and what manufacturers can profitably deliver; nonetheless, some version of right-to-repair legislation is likely to come into effect in many parts of the world over the next few years. For corporations likely to be affected by the new rules, now is the time to start preparing.
Staying on Top of Emerging Space Policy
Right-to-repair policy continues to gain ground around the world. To navigate this changing landscape, FiscalNote’s solutions help you stay on top of the most pressing matters for your industry.
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