The Broken System of Consumerism: The Right to Repair Movement and Its Impact on European Union Directive Revisions

By Tia Rowe

Consumer concerns and environmentalism are two of the motivations behind the blossoming “Right to Repair” movement that is developing across the United States and Europe.[1] This movement seeks to address both the monetary cost and the environmental impact of consumer goods being manufactured, specifically, goods which stop working shortly after the warranty period ends and are constructed in such a way that it is nearly impossible to make repairs to them.[2] This movement has led the European Union to consider new revisions to its Ecodesign Directive.[3] These revisions would direct manufacturers to make consumer goods that can be repaired and to provide spare parts for such repairs.[4] This blog post will briefly explore the growing Right to Repair movement and the proposed European Union directive to implement regulations reflective of that movement.

In 2015 a German study found that “the share of large household appliances that had to be replaced within the first five years of use grew from 7% of total replacements in 2004 to 13% in 2013.”[5] This concern over the increased consumption of goods is one of the driving factors behind community groups known as “Repair Cafes” and “Restart Parties.”[6] These groups are usually comprised of volunteers – although there are also repair shops that are run as businesses – and the groups fix products brought to them that no longer work.[7] The Right to Repair movement was developed from a desire to address planned obsolescence and to oppose companies that do not allow repairs to be made to their products.[8] For instance, one Repair Café volunteer described making repairs as a “political act” when making such repairs “is actively discouraged by manufacturers."[9]

In addition to planned obsolescence concerns, there is also an issue regarding the impact that throwing away large amounts of consumer goods has on the environment.[10] Throwing away consumer goods, especially electronics and large appliances, and subsequently purchasing new goods uses CO2 and the discarded products are often not properly recycled.[11] The right to repair regulations would be part of a revision to the European Union’s Ecodesign Directive, which has been primarily focused on directing manufacturers to create more energy efficient products.[12] By introducing the regulations under the mantle of the Ecodesign Directive, the European Union is acknowledging the environmental concerns associated with the inability to fix products, which causes the consumer to throw out the broken product and replace it with a new product.[13] For example, many lamps sold in the United Kingdom and Europe are designed so that the lightbulb cannot be changed once it dies.[14]  This forces the consumer to throw out the lamp and buy a new one when the lightbulb burns out, which is incredibly wasteful and can be expensive to the consumer.[15]

The European Union will be voting on regulations based on which consumer good is being considered.[16] Specifically, the European Union will be voting on regulations for refrigerators, lighting, electronic displays, dishwashers, and washing machines.[17] The first vote was on December 10, 2018 and pertained to refrigerators.[18] The Member States ultimately voted that “manufacturers selling refrigerators in the EU will have to sell consumers the spare parts they need to fix their own machines. They also have to be designed to be repaired with common tools.”[19] This vote was seen as a beginning victory for the Right to Repair movement, but it is just the first step with more votes and discussions to come.[20] There is a tension between focusing on making it easier to recycle consumer goods versus making it easier to repair the goods prior to recycling them.[21] The former position is supported by lobbyists for manufacturing and tech companies while the latter is supported by groups like Repair Cafes.[22] This tension, paired with the scheduled voting on different major appliances, may lead to a discrepancy between regulations based upon the appliance in question.[23]

If regulations are different for each consumer good, it may be harder for Repair Cafes and repair shops in general to maintain clientele. It might be difficult to create a culture that repairs instead of replaces if the consumer can only repair certain goods and only in certain ways. For example, it would be confusing to the consumer if – hypothetically – refrigerators can only be repaired by professional repair shops, washing machines can be repaired by anyone, and lighting fixtures cannot be repaired but can be broken down to be recycled. The possibility of different regulations for different products could exacerbate one of the problems in the Right to Repair movement: the lack of a repair culture.[24] Despite the tension between lobbyists and the Right to Repair movement, it is notable that the European Union is addressing the issue of consumer waste and the environmental impact associated with discarding rather than repairing consumer goods. Regardless of the regulation outcome and hypothetical confusion that may result, the conversation generated by the revised directive may help encourage people to seek repairs before throwing out their broken products, thus helping to cultivate a repair culture. The system of consumerism is broken, but hopefully, like an old washing machine, it too can be repaired.


[1] See generally Lucy Hooker, What should I do with my broken kettle?, BBC (Oct. 31, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45969676; Lucas Laursen, The 'Right to Repair' Movement Is Gaining Ground and Could Hit Manufacturers Hard, Fortune (Jan. 09, 2019), http://fortune.com/2019/01/09/right-to-repair-manufacturers/.  

[2] See Roger Harrabin, Climate change: 'Right to repair' gathers force, BBC (Jan. 09, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46797396?fbclid=IwAR3cgev2KhfaXBUvUfL7jcFsC5YbNKFkitw7MJBD7-sSFtkUWMZTI2_xz_0.

[3] See generally Laursen, supra note 1; id.

[4] See generally Laursen, supra note 1; id.

[5] Susanna Ala-Kurikka, Lifespan of consumer electronics is getting shorter, study finds, Guardian (Mar. 03, 2015), https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/03/lifespan-of-consumer-electronics-is-getting-shorter-study-finds.

[6] See generally Maarten Depypere, EU votes to make refrigerators more repairable, iFixitorg (Dec. 13, 2018), https://ifixit.org/blog/12497/eu-ecodesign-vote/; The Manchester Declaration, https://manchesterdeclaration.org (last visited Jan. 13, 2019).

[7] See e.g., Kate Lyons, Can we fix it? The repair cafes waging war on throwaway culture, Guardian (Mar. 15, 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/15/can-we-fix-it-the-repair-cafes-waging-war-on-throwaway-culture.

[8] See e.g., id.

[9] Id.

[10] Gaby Hinsliff, ‘Make do and mend’ is a good, green motto for our wasteful times, Guardian (Jan. 11, 2019), https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/11/mend-eu-right-to-repair-white-goods-planet.

[11] See generally Electronic waste poses ‘growing risk’ to environment, human health, UN report warns, UN News (Dec. 13, 2017), https://news.un.org/en/story/2017/12/639312-electronic-waste-poses-growing-risk-environment-human-health-un-report-warns; Harrabin, supra note 2; Hooker, supra note 1.

[12] Mauro Anastasio, EU to deny citizens longer-lasting and repairable popular consumer products – MEDIA BRIEF, Eur. Envtl. Bureau (Nov. 29, 2018), https://eeb.org/eu-to-deny-citizens-longer-lasting-and-repairable-popular-consumer-products-media-brief/.

[13] See generally id.

[14] Harrabin, supra note 2.

[15] Id.

[16] Anastasio, supra note 11.

[17] Id.

[18] Matthew Gault, Protesters Are Slowly Winning Electronics Right-to-Repair Battles in Europe, Motherboard (Dec. 14, 2018, 7:00 AM), https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/9k487p/protesters-are-slowly-winning-electronics-right-to-repair-battles-in-europe.

[19] Id.

[20] See generally id.

[21] Id.

[22] See generally id.

[23] See generally id.; Laursen, supra note 1.

[24] Gault, supra note 17.

The Mysterious Case of Preemptive Force in Syria

By: Matthew Thran 

On April 07, 2018 France, Britain and the United States launched a combined missile attack against the Shayrat Airbase in Syria.[1] The stated reason for the missile attack was to “show Western resolve in the face of what the leaders of the three nations called persistent violations of international law.”[2] Specifically, the attack was in response to a suspected chemical attack, perpetrated by the Syrian government, which occurred on April 07, 2018 in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, within Syria.[3] The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was not able to access the sites of the suspected chemical attacks until April 21, 2018, two weeks after the suspected attacks, and the missile strikes.[4]  The Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria and other nations are a party to, prohibits the use of Chemical Weapons.[5] Despite the OPCW, the implementing party for the Chemical Weapons Convention, not having made a finding on whether a chemical attack occurred France released their own justification for the missile attack.[6] The French report stated, "After examining the videos and images of victims published online, [French intelligence services] were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority [of chemical attacks] are recent and not fabricated."[7] However, Syria has staunchly denied ever using chemical weapons during the civil war.[8] Despite Syria’s protestations to their use of chemical weapons the OPCW and the UN have found that Syria has used chemical weapons on at least four separate occasions during the civil war.[9]

 

It is necessary to determine whether there was a legally cognizable excuse for the United States, France, and Britain to launch a premeditated attack against another sovereign nation. As members of the United Nations France, Britain, and the United States are all bound by the provisions of the United Nations Charter.[10] Article two of the United Nations Charter states that all members must settle their disputes in a peaceful manner so that the international peace and security are not endangered.[11] Additionally, article two states, “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”[12]

Despite the prohibitions on the use of force, article 51 of the UN Charter provides for the use of force in self defense.[13] Article 51 states:

 

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.[14]

Article 51 requires that an armed attack occur before a nation can use force in self defense.[15] There was no attack on France, Britain, or the United States prior to their missile attack on Syria.

 

In addition to article 51 the United Nations Security Council has the authority to authorize the use of force against a nation. Article 39 of the United Nations Charter allows the Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”[16] Article 42 provides that the Security Council may authorize the use of land, air, and sea forces as necessary to restore peace and security to the international community.[17] The Security Council did not authorize the use of force prior to the missile attack conducted by France, Britain, and the United States.

 

After the missile attack against Syria, there was an emergency session held for the UN Security Council. At the session, Russia attempted to pass a resolution condemning France, Britain, and The United States for violating international law and the UN Charter. Russia could not get the requisite amount of votes to pass the resolution, but that is not indicative of the legality of the acts taken by the United States, France, and Britain.[18]

The International Court of Justice has dealt with the issue of preemptive use of force in numerous cases. In Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua (Nicar. v. U.S.), Judgment, 1986 I.C.J. 14, ¶ 212 (June 27) [hereinafter Nicaragua], the ICJ held that an armed attack only includes, “the most grave forms of the use of force”. Additionally, in G.A. Res. 2623 (VII) (Oct. 24, 1970), the United Nations stated that less grave uses of force that do not constitute armed attacks may involve deprivation of peoples’ self-determination, organizing or encouraging mercenaries to enter another State, and assisting or organizing terrorist attacks in another state. Under definitions put forward by both the International Court of Justice and the United Nations the United States, France, and Britain were not justified in using force against Syria.

 

Despite the attack likely having no basis in international law, there is some precedent for taking military action without United Nations authorization. In 1999 NATO began a bombing campaign against Serbia.[19] There was no United Nations resolution authorizing the bombing campaign in Kosovo but there was widespread support from the international community and the attacks were carried out by NATO rather than by independent nations.[20] There was no legal justification for the Kosovo attacks but because the international community largely supported the action there were never any consequences for the action. In the present case, Russia and China are both vehemently against intervention in Syria and the illegal attacks are likely to cause international strife.

 

[1] Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neff & Ben Hubbard, U.S. Britain and France Strike Syria Over Suspected Chemical Weapon Attack, The New York Times (April 13, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/world/middleeast/trump-strikes-syria-attack.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Syria Chemical Attack: Experts Finally Visit Douma Site, BBC (April 21, 2018), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43850979.

[4] Id.

[5] Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction, Jan. 13, 1993;

[6]  Id., Ledyard King & Oren Dorell, French Report Lays out the Evidence: Assad Forces Conducted Chemical Attacks on Civilians, USA Today (Apr. 14, 2018), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/04/14/french-report-lays-out-evidence-assad-forces-conducted-chemical-attack-civilians/517187002/.

[7] King & Dorell, supra note 6.

[8] Syria Chemical Attack: Experts Finally Visit Douma Site, supra note 3.

[9] Id.

[10] U.N. Charter art. 2.

[11] Id. ¶ 3.

[12] Id. ¶ 4.

[13] Id. art. 51.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id. art. 39.

[17] Id. art. 42.

[18] Ray Sanchez & Laura Smith-Spark, After Syrian Airstrikes Comes Finger-Pointing and Condemnations, CNN (Apr. 14, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/14/politics/syria-strikes-russia-us-response-intl/index.html.

[19] James Rubin, Syria is not Kosovo, The New York Times (Sept. 04, 2018), https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yrW9GC7E6SnJ4gqOPcymtzK2edPBb5Qco3D_mae6uV8/edit.

[20] Id.

The Bid for Recognition: The Enduring Cost of Being Unrecognized

By: Megan Hall 

Kosovo is a tiny, landlocked country in the Balkan region of Europe, tucked between Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, and Macedonia. The Kosovo Assembly declared independence on February 17, 2008, and over 110 countries have recognized Kosovo as a country.[1] The International Court of Justice ruled this declaration to be legal in June 2010, leaving Serbia few avenues to dispute Kosovo’s independence.[2] However, it still seeks full international recognition and is still not a member of the United Nations or European Union.[3]

Kosovo is a small region, slightly larger than Delaware.[4] It is the second poorest country in Europe with a GDP of $10,400 in 2017.[5] The modern boundaries were established after World War II when Kosovo was an autonomous province of Serbia in Yugoslavia.[6] During its history since the Ottoman Empire, Kosovo has seen a lot of ethnic conflict. In the 7th century, ethnic Serbs moved into Kosovo, which then became the center of the Serbian Empire.[7] During the Ottoman Empire, a large number of Turks and Albanians moved into the region, and Albanians became the dominant ethnicity at the end of the 19th century.[8] Albanian nationalism increased during the 1980s, calling for Kosovo independence. In 1991, Albanian leaders called for Kosovo independence, which led to Serbian leaders taking repressive measures against Albanians during the 1990s.[9]

In 1998, Serbia launched a brutal campaign against the Albanians in Kosovo.[10] An estimated 300,000 Albanians were expelled from their homes by October 1998 by the Serbian Army.[11] A ceasefire between the Serbian Army and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) occurred in October 1998.[12] Fighting renewed in the new year, and NATO forces became involved in March 1999.[13] After 78 days of airstrikes, the Serbian leader capitulated and withdrew, leaving a NATO Peacekeeping force in place.[14] Finally, in April 2013, Serbia and Kosovo signed the Brussels Agreement, the first agreement since the conflict to provide for a way to normalize relations between the two countries.[15] Still, Serbia refuses to recognize the country, and China and Russia back Serbian claims to the region.[16]

NATO has continued to have a presence in Kosovo with 355 personnel deployed as of March 2018.[17] The United Nations Security Council authorized the establishment of a civil presence in Kosovo in Resolution 1244 on June 10, 1999.[18] The international community recognized the ongoing human rights crisis in Kosovo and responded. However, much of Kosovo’s current malaise can be traced back to this crisis, as it was never properly resolved.

By the end of the conflict in June 1999, an estimated 4,400 people were missing.[19] The International Commission on Missing Persons has used DNA matching to identify those missing but around 1,700 people remain unidentified.[20] In Kosovo today, the youth unemployment hovers around 60% and the average age is 26.[21] The population of Kosovo is young and poor and stuck in a mire assisted by the lack of international recognition.

A country being recognized by other countries around the world means the country can actively take part in international law. Because it is not recognized by # countries, Kosovo is not a member of the European Union. Without membership, Kosovo citizens cannot freely move throughout the European Union. Thus, the borders are closed, and Kosovo youth are trapped in an economy with few opportunities. Other issues also persisted, like a lack of a postal system or SWIFT codes.[22] Kosovo lacked a postal service and relied upon Albania’s, which created issues with sending or receiving goods.[23] Similarly, Kosovo banks did not have SWIFT codes, making transferring money more difficult.[24] In 2017, Brookings estimated that the cost of the lack of recognition was the equivalent of a 14% tariff when trading with Kosovo, which is enormous.[25]

Serbia is also not a member of the European Union but has been told that it could join in 2025 provided it resolves its conflict with Kosovo and carries out some reforms at home.[26] Similar to Kosovo, Serbia is a small country, slightly smaller than North Carolina.[27] However, the Serbian economy has not suffered to the same degree as the Kosovo economy. Its GDP per capita was $15,200 in 2017, and its unemployment rate is around 16%.[28] Although this is relatively high, it is significantly lower than its neighbor’s rates.[29] Still, it too seeks full international recognition.

The resolution of the Serbian-Kosovo conflict and the official recognition of an independent Kosovo by the full international community would help move this region out of the mire it has wallowed in since the 1990s. Continuing non-recognition poses a large economic cost. Kosovo has a large youth population and not giving them the freedom to move within the European Union and find opportunities to work hinders the European Union as well as Kosovo. Recognition would likely boost trade, increasing opportunities for the entire region. Finally, official recognition might be enough to finally push to heal the wounds still festering from the ethnic conflict. The 1,700 people should be identified and the people who suffered through the War should be able to finally feel a sense of peace and hope in the region.

 

 

[1] Kosovo, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/kv.html (last accessed Apr. 23, 2018).  

[2] Peter Beaumont, Kosovo’s Independence is Legal, UN Court Rules, The Guardian, Jul. 22, 2010, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/22/kosovo-independence-un-ruling.

[3] Kosovo, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/kv.html (last accessed Apr. 23, 2018).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Niel Tweedie, Kosovo War: Thousands Killed as Serb Forces Tried to Keep Control of Province, The Telegraph, Mar. 31, 2009, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/kosovo/5084374/Kosovo-War-Thousands-killed-as-Serb-forces-tried-to-keep-control-of-province.html.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Piotr Smolar, Serbia and Kosovo Sign Historic Agreement, The Guardian, Apr. 30, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/30/serbia-kosovo-historic-agreement-brussels.

[16] The Associated Press, Kosovo Marks Progress, if not Universal Recognition, on 10th Anniversary, CNBC News, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/kosovo-tenth-anniversary-celebrations-1.4540980.

[17] United Nations Peacekeeping, “UNMIK Fact Sheet” UN.org, https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/unmik (last accessed Apr. 23, 2017).  

[18] S.C. Res. 1244 (June 10, 1999).  

[19] Kosovo, International Commission on Missing Persons, https://www.icmp.int/where-we-work/europe/western-balkans/kosovo/ (last accessed Apr. 23, 2017).

[20] Id.

[21] Kosovo, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/kv.html (last accessed Apr. 23, 2018).  

[22] Jieun Choi, The Costs of Not Being Recognized as a Country: The Case of Kosovo, Brookings, Nov. 16, 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2017/11/16/the-costs-of-not-being-recognized-as-a-country-the-case-of-kosovo/.

[23] Id.  

[24] Id.  

[25] Id.  

[26] Ivana Sekularac, Serbs Won’t Back Kosovo Recognition for EU Seat, President Warns, Reuters, Feb. 16, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-balkans-serbia/serbs-wont-back-kosovo-recognition-for-eu-seat-president-warns-idUSKCN1G01I9.

[27] Kosovo, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ri.html (last accessed Apr. 23, 2018).

[28] Id.

[29] Id.