By leaning towards investors, Microsoft will make their devices easier to fix

In a first victory of its kind for the right to repair move, Microsoft has agreed to take concrete steps to facilitate independent repair of its devices following pressure from its shareholders.

On Monday, Microsoft and the non-profit investor advice As You Sow reached an agreement on a shareholder resolution As You Sow presented in June urging the technology company to analyze the “environmental and social benefits” of facilitating the device repair. After months of negotiations, Microsoft has agreed to comply and then some. The company will not only study how increasing access to parts and the information needed for repair can reduce its contributions to climate change and e-waste, but has also agreed to act on the findings of this study at the end. next year.

This is the first time the US. the manufacturer has agreed to change its repair policies after pressure from investors. But it might not be the last: in September, Green Century, an investment fund company focused on environmentally responsible investment, filed two similar right-of-repair resolutions, one to Apple and one to Deere & Co. ., the best manufacturer of agricultural equipment. known for the John Deere tractor.

Collectively, these resolutions represent a new front in the struggle for the right to reparation, which explicitly links corporate environmental responsibility with reparation policies. The battle is being led by shareholder organizations that have been successful in pressuring companies to achieve greater transparency on climate change. For example, As You Sow has previously convinced large utility company Duke Energy to disclose methane emissions associated with its natural gas infrastructure and has pressured Twitter to report its carbon footprint.

“We’ve seen shareholder resolutions become an important tool for climate activists,” Kerry Sheehan, the U.S. policy director of the iFixit repair guides site, told Grist. “We’re seeing that it’s also being adopted in the context of repair, in part because they’re very connected.”

When consumers are unable to fix their devices quickly and economically, they are more likely to buy new ones, and this has consequences for the planet. A significant fraction of the carbon emissions associated with the devices we own – 81% in the case of Apple’s new iPhone 13 – occur during manufacturing. Replacing our things before we need them causes these emissions to multiply, as well as the pollution, use of natural resources, and soil degradation associated with the extraction and refining of raw materials. In the case of consumer electronics, it also entails more toxic electronic waste.

Despite the environmental benefits of using our things for as long as possible, companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Deere make extensive use difficult by restricting access to parts, manuals and software tools needed for repair and designing products that do not be easy to fix. . These corporations also have a history of pressure against bills that will make independent repair more accessible.

Kelly McBee, coordinator of the As You Sow waste program, began a few years ago to intensely explore the issue of e-waste. After learning that Microsoft was actively contributing to the crisis through its restrictive repair policies, he contacted the company to hold a “good faith conversation” in May. It didn’t go well.

“The company presented a very antagonistic view of the repair,” McBee said, adding that Microsoft’s legal counsel told him they saw “no connection between improved sustainability and repairability.”

But after As You Sow unveiled its shareholder resolution in June, which attracted media attention and raised awareness among Microsoft investors, McBee says the company’s attitude changed dramatically.

“Microsoft came back with different legal advisors and representatives on the line and said,‘ We’re really changing our tune on this issue, we think this study is a great idea, we’re going to work together to make that change, ”McBee said. “That is night and day.”

Because Sow has now agreed to withdraw its resolution with the company. * In return, McBee says Microsoft has agreed to hire an independent consultant to study the benefits of increasing consumer access to parts and repair documentation, including impacts on carbon emissions and waste. Although the study will not be made public due to proprietary information concerns, Microsoft is expected to publicly release a summary of its findings in early May 2022.

Based on these findings, Microsoft has also agreed to make new parts and documentation available beyond its authorized repair network by the end of 2022. It has also agreed to launch new initiatives still unknown to facilitate local repair, according to McBee .

Sheehan called the deal between As You Sow and Microsoft a “step in the right direction,” adding that iFixit will be “watching closely” to see how Microsoft continues and whether it changes its tune in repair rights legislation. . Nathan Proctor, who leads the U.S. Public Interest Group’s nonprofit rights repair campaign, noted that Microsoft remains a member of pressure groups that oppose the bill. to repair, such as the Entertainment Software Association.

“We are very grateful for what they are doing for this report, but if they show up to kill the right bills to repair there is still more work to be done,” Proctor said.

In response to questions about the deal, a Microsoft spokesman told Grist that Microsoft is committed to meeting the needs and desires of consumers, including the repairability of the device. “We believe customers have a right to repair safe and reliable options,” the spokesman said in an email. “We currently provide customers with repair services that ensure the high quality of repairs, protect customers’ privacy and security, and protect customers from injury.”

“As Sow asked us to investigate the connections between our sustainability commitments and the repairability of the device,” the Microsoft spokesman added. “It was a productive discussion and we agreed to undertake this important study, the results of which will be used to guide the design of our product and plans to expand device repair options for our customers.”

McBee says she is “very happy” with the deal, adding that she “expects it to have an influence” on Green Century resolutions currently prior to Apple and Deere. Like the As You Sow resolution, these proposals call on both companies to evaluate the benefits of making the tools and information needed for repair more accessible to consumers.

Green Century shareholder advocate Annalisa Tarizzo told Grist that over the past year, the investment company has been “concerned” that Apple and Deere’s antagonistic stances toward independent repair are damaging the reputation of companies and exposing them to regulatory risk. Many state legislatures are actively considering bills codifying the right to reparation, and in July the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) promised to “increase law enforcement” against illegal reparation restrictions.

Apple has “very ambitious climate goals, but this stance against repair doesn’t really fit what they present to the public,” Tarizzo said. “And given Deere’s market positioning, we were concerned that they might face some lawsuits.” Deere, which has captured more than half of the U.S. farm equipment market, does not allow farmers access to the diagnostic software needed to fix their tractors, a policy that costs farmers money by forcing them to wait for a dealer to repair their equipment.

Apple and Deere did not respond to requests for comment on shareholder resolutions filed by Green Century and Tarizzo was unable to provide details on the investor’s talks with companies. But he expects both to “agree to make some substantial changes to their policies” in the coming months, in which case Green Century will withdraw its resolutions ahead of their respective shareholder meetings.

Otherwise, resolutions may be voted on at the company’s annual shareholders ’meetings in early 2022. While shareholder resolutions are not legally binding, Tarizzo says that typically when more than a third of corporate shareholders vote in favor of one, “it sends a pretty strong signal to the company that they should probably address any issue on which the company voted”. As Microsoft’s resolution demonstrates, even the prospect of that vote can force a company to take action.

These resolutions for shareholders come as the right-to-base repair movement continues to gain support from high places. In May, the FTC declared itself strongly in favor of independent repair when it released a report that found “little evidence” to justify the restrictions imposed by the manufacturer. In July, President Biden issued an executive order calling on the FTC to draft new rules that address “unfair anti-competitive restrictions on third-party reparations.” Support for independent repair is also growing among lawmakers: A A record 27 states have considered right-to-repair bills this year, and in June, a U.S. representative in New York introduced the first national right-to-repair bill aimed at everything from computers to tractors .

Sheehan, of iFixit, sees shareholder activism as an “integral part” of the scope of the right to redress movement. Even if some of these resolutions do not get the support of investors or target companies do not take aggressive enough measures, Sheehan believes that all manufacturers “will have to have the right to repair themselves eventually.”

“It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

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