Bowing to investors, Microsoft will make devices easier to repair


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

On Monday, Microsoft and the nonprofit investor advocacy association As You Sow reached an agreement regarding a shareholders’ resolution As You Sow filed in June, urging the tech company to analyze the “environmental and social benefits”To facilitate the repair of devices. After months of negotiations, Microsoft agreed to comply, and more. Not only will the company investigate how increased access to the parts and information needed for repair can reduce its contributions to climate change and e-waste, it has also agreed to act on the findings of this study by the end of this year. next year.

This is the first time that an American manufacturer has agreed to modify its repair policies following pressure from investors. But it may not be the last: in September, Century green, an eco-friendly investment-focused mutual fund company, filed two similar resolutions on the right to redress, one with Apple and another with Deere & Co., the best known farm equipment manufacturer for the John Deere tractor.

Collectively, these resolutions represent a new front in the fight for the right to redress, which explicitly links corporate environmental responsibility to redress policies. The battle is being waged by shareholder organizations that were successful press companies for greater transparency on climate change. For example, As You Sow has already convinced the large utility Duke Energy to disclose methane emissions associated with its natural gas infrastructure and lobbied on Twitter to declare your carbon footprint.

“We have seen shareholder resolutions become an important tool for climate activists,” Kerry Sheehan, director of US policy at the repair guide site iFixit, told Grist. “We also see it being adopted in the context of reparation, in part because these are so closely related. “

When consumers are unable to repair their devices quickly and cheaply, they are more likely to buy new ones, which has consequences for the planet. A significant fraction of the carbon emissions associated with the devices we own – 81 percent in the case of Apple’s new iPhone 13 – occur during manufacturing. Replacing our products before we need to increase these emissions, as well as the pollution, natural resource use and land degradation associated with the extraction and refining of raw materials. In the case of consumer electronics, this also leads to no more toxic electronic waste.

Despite the environmental benefits of use our stuff as long as possible, companies like Microsoft, Apple and Deere are making prolonged use difficult by restricting access to parts, manuals, and software tools needed for repair and by designing products that are not easy to repair. These companies also have a history of lobbying against bills that would make independent repair more accessible.

Kelly McBee, Waste Program Coordinator at As You Sow, began to explore the issue of e-waste intensively several years ago. After learning that Microsoft was actively contributing to the crisis through its restrictive remedial policies, she contacted the company to have a “good faith conversation” in May. It didn’t go well.

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

But after As You Sow tabled its shareholder resolution in June, which garnered media attention and educated Microsoft investors, McBee says the company’s attitude has changed dramatically.

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

As You Sow has now agreed to withdraw its resolution with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In return, McBee says Microsoft has agreed to hire an independent consultant to study the benefits of increased consumer access to parts and repair documentation, including impacts on carbon emissions and waste. Although the study is not made public due to concerns about confidential information, Microsoft is required to publicly release a summary of its findings by 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, as yet unknown initiatives. to facilitate local repair, according to McBee.

Sheehan called the As You Sow-Microsoft deal “a step in the right direction,” adding that iFixit “will be watching closely” to see how Microsoft is following through and if it changes course on copyright law. repair. Nathan Proctor, who leads the right to redress campaign at the nonprofit US Public Research Interest Group, noted that Microsoft is still a member of lobby groups that oppose the right to right bills. to repair, such as the Entertainment Software Association.

“We really appreciate what they are doing for this report, but if they come forward to kill the repair right bills, there is still work to be done,” said Proctor.

In response to questions from Grist, Microsoft declined to comment on the deal.

McBee says she is “very happy” with the deal, adding that she “hopes it will influence” Green Century resolutions currently ahead of Apple and Deere. Like the As You Sow resolution, these proposals ask the two companies to weigh the benefits of making the tools and information needed for repair more accessible to consumers.

Green Century shareholder attorney Annalisa Tarizzo told Grist that over the past year the investment firm had “worried” that the opposing positions of Apple and Deere towards independent repair damaged the reputation of companies and exposed them to regulatory risk. Many state legislatures are actively studying invoices which codify the right to repair, and in July, the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, sworn to “strengthen law enforcement” against illegal repair restrictions.

Apple has “very ambitious climate goals, but this anti-repair stance really doesn’t match what they’re presenting to the public,” Tarizzo said. “And given Deere’s positioning in the market, we were concerned that they could be prosecuted. »Deere, who captured more than half agricultural equipment market in the United States, does not provide farmers with access to the diagnostic software needed to repair 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 could not provide details of the investment firm’s conversations with the companies. But she hopes the two “will commit to making substantial changes to their policies” in the coming months, in which case Green Century will withdraw its resolutions before their respective shareholder meetings.

Otherwise, resolutions could be put to a vote at company annual meetings of shareholders in early 2022. Although shareholder resolutions are legally non-binding, Tarizzo says that typically when more than a third of company shareholders vote in favor of one, “This sends a strong enough signal to the company that they should probably address whatever issue the company has voted on.” As Microsoft’s resolution demonstrates, even the prospect of such a vote can compel a company to act.

These shareholder resolutions come as the popular right to redress movement continues to garner support from senior officials. In May, the FTC came out strongly in favor of independent redress when it released a report who found “little evidence” to justify the restrictions imposed by the manufacturer. In July, President Biden issued an executive order asking the FTC to develop new rules that would address “unfair anti-competitive restrictions on third-party repair.” Support for independent redress is also increasing among lawmakers: A save 27 states considered right to redress bills this year, and in June, a U.S. representative from New York introduced the first national bill on the right to reparation targeting everything from computers to tractors.

Sheehan of iFixit sees shareholder activism as “integral” to the growing reach of the right to redress movement. Even if some of these resolutions fail to garner investor support or if the targeted companies do not take aggressive enough action, Sheehan believes all manufacturers “will eventually have to reckon with the right to repair.”

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

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