Repair is essential to our society, now even more than ever, writes Chloe Mikolajczak.

Chloe Mikolajczak is the campaign coordinator for Right to Repair Europe, a coalition of NGOs – including the EEB – advocating for repairable products.

This story was originally published in repair.eu

Many of us rely on our electric and electronic devices to work from home, connect with our loved ones or seek information and entertainment. If they break, we need reliable repairers to help us, so we can stay connected. During the pandemic, getting your device or appliance fixed is even more important, at a time when buying a new one might not even be possible, or we might simply not be able to afford it.

However, in several European countries repair has not made the list of “essential activities” that should remain open in these times of crisis. This means that for those of us who don’t have the skills to fix our electronics, we could lose access to these essential working and communication tools.

While we’re normally not aligned with the positions of industry groups, the request from Digital Europe of “keeping ICT and electronics shops open during the pandemic” resonates with us, as long as it is meant to include independent repair businesses, crucial for keeping existing devices in operation.

Even in the few countries that still allow independent repair businesses to stay open, finding them isn’t always easy. For the vast majority of people using Google to do so, it’s next to impossible because the corporation has been blocking advertisements from independent repairers (as opposed to repair services from manufacturers and their authorised repairers) which, as we’ll see, aren’t necessarily more able to help consumers.

Reuse and independent repair’s role during a lockdown

Yet, there’s never been a more important time to be able to fix our electronics. We’ve established they’re essential to keep working and ensure our wellbeing. 

But that’s not all. The traditional supply chains that ensure the constant restocking of the shelves of electronic stores and spare parts, which are some of the most complex and global, are breaking down — and are likely to break down further in coming months. Proof of this is the skyrocketing price of second-hand gaming consoles, driven up by the reduced supply of new ones.

Getting a repair done via an authorised service centre is increasingly difficult. Recently, Apple announced the temporary closure of all its shops – and with that, their on-site repair services. They’ve gone online and it’s bound to be slow. This leaves many customers without an option to get their device fixed.

Independent repair businesses are more resilient. They are less dependent on global supply chains than authorised repair centres, as they are good at reusing parts and performing component-level repairs.

Many use non-genuine as well as refurbished parts that come from more agile suppliers, but they increasingly face legal threats. An example is the now famous case of Norwegian independent repairer Henrik Huseby. He’s currently awaiting for the Supreme Court hearing of his case against Apple. 

This criminalisation of independent repair businesses providing essential services needs to stop. As Kyle Wiens, founder of iFixit puts it:

Most independent shops are providing board level repair service to their customers. Every product they repair this way requires almost no supply chain access—just labor and the occasional salvaged part. And an illegally sourced schematic.”

Kyle Wiens, Founder of iFixit

Independent repair needs support in a post Covid-19 world

So far, we’ve seen much discussion about bailouts of big business suffering under the strain of the pandemic. Temporary measures for small businesses may apply to repair businesses too but it’s too early to tell.

In some European countries the commercial repair sector is quite organised (Vangerow in Germany and Repanet and Reparatur Netwerk in Austria are excellent examples). Decision-makers should proactively engage with networks representing repairers, when thinking about measures to support repairers.

Volunteers fixing electronics in a repair shop

We must ensure that the independent repair and reuse sectors are not forgotten in the wider policy conversations about what the post Covid-19 world will look like and how to finance it. Not only repair and reuse are essential to reach our climate and sustainability ambitions, both at national and EU levels; they also provide opportunities for jobs and training that will likely be much needed in the next few months and years.

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