Planned Obsolescence and Consumers' Rights

By Covadonga Maestro

02-2018

Planned Obsolescence is a term which refers to a business practice that ensures that a version of a product becomes outdated or useless within a known period of time calculated by the manufacturer company. This practice is in the spotlight because of several acknowledged manufacturers having admitted dubious practices related to Planned Obsolescence.

For instance, similarly to what happened in France, FACUA-Consumers in Action, a Spanish non-governmental and non-profit organization dedicated to the defense of consumer rights has filed a claim before the European Commission and the Spanish Public Prosecution Office against Apple for, allegedly, committing various wrongdoings related to Obsolescence practices. This brings back the debate of how this can be addressed by the legislative authorities and possible solutions. 

Even though some solutions against Planned Obsolescence have been implemented in the European Union, these measures have been introduced by Directive 2012/19/EU of 4 July 2012 on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), so they are not focused on consumers' rights protection. Therefore, how could we face Planned Obsolescence in favour of consumers' rights? There are a number of different methods that could be implemented for such purpose: 

  1. Pre-contractual information enforced: legislative powers may include specific provisions referring to potential Planned Obsolescence information obligations, as vendors are transmitting a vague message regarding products' lifetime.
  2. Legal guarantee increase: legislative powers may extend the Spanish legal two-year guarantee period, so that consumers have the right to have the product repaired or replaced, to a reduction in price or to the termination of the contract after the following two years of delivery.
  3. Increase of spare parts availability: legislative powers may extend the spare parts availability beyond the five-year current period following the date on which the long-lasting product (computer equipment and their software, among others) ceases to be manufactured. Currently this information shall be available to consumers through the price list of spare parts and it is prohibited to increase the price of spare parts or to charge amounts in excess.
  4. Follow the French model: France has enacted some laws against the Planned Obsolescence while Spain is still trying to fight against these practices and looking for methods to avoid them. These measures shall be preferably taken from the European Union level, and for the moment the European Parliament has called on the Commission to encourage a longer lifetime for products, aimed to benefit consumers and companies.

Competent authorities shall bear in mind when choosing the best practice to implement these measures that they should not slow down the competitiveness and innovation of manufacturers and that some people may prefer to buy cheaper machines even if they are aware of the fact that their products could be useless in a couple of years.

Due to the fact that consumers are increasingly reacting negatively to Planned Obsolescence as they are being forced to buy new products instead of fixing the older ones they already have, some entities are adhering to codes of conduct or quality stamps to disassociate from Planned Obsolescence. Consequently, companies will probably be more conscious in order to avoid these practices if they want to keep their customers and reputation.

 

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