Cousins Material House, a leading wholesaler of equipment and components for the watch service and repair industry, has been battling Swatch Group for almost four years over the Swiss conglomerate’s refusal to supply parts to the independent repair trade.
That court case is expected to reach a ruling next year, but a new report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) into how the consumer electronics industry generates waste because its products cannot be viably repaired, could have an impact on the issue faced by the watch industry.
The cross-party EAC found that many consumer goods could not be repaired either because the manufacturing methods are designed to prevent repair, or because manufacturers fail to make parts and service manuals freely available.
As part of the investigation, the Committee surveyed over 500 repair groups and found that the biggest factor preventing repair (45%) was products being glued together as part of the manufacturing process. The second and third largest factors (23% and 20%) were the lack of access to both spare parts and manuals.
The committee recommended: “The Government must enshrine the right to repair in law, enforcing access to (1) repair manuals; (2) access to affordable spare parts for products; and (3) ability to repair products without repairers needing access to physical or software tools specifically designed to be a barrier to independent servicing or repair.”
If that recommendation leads to a change in the law, it could also impact the watch repair industry.
Access to parts and manuals are limited by many Swiss watch manufacturers to accredited service centres, but consultant Steve Domb, who has been working with Cousins throughout its court case against Swatch Group, think the EAC recommendation is relevant to the watch business.
“The main thrust of the EAC investigation was the electronics industry, but other types of consumer goods were also looked at. We contributed a paper that was published as part of the investigation’s output, in which we highlighted how existing competition law defines supply of spare parts as a market by itself, and that a refusal to supply, or placing barriers to supply are unlawful acts. If the existing law is properly applied, repair becomes viable, and the lost repair culture that the EAC wants to restore will naturally return,” Mr Domb suggests.
Anthony Cousins, managing director of Cousins Material House adds: “Cousins began in the repair world, and has grown because of its consistent support for that sustainable approach to consumer goods. We welcome the findings of the EAC, and will continue to support efforts to establish “Right to Repair” legislation, and do whatever we can to ensure that our industry is covered by it. We are approaching the end of proceedings in Switzerland and, having seen all the legal arguments, are confident that the Bern Court will rule in our favour. The practice of restricting parts supply that was begun by Rolex in the 1980s, and subsequently copied by almost all the other brands, has never been in the best interest of watch owners. It has resulted in higher prices, less choice on where repairs can be obtained, and a desperate shortage of new skilled repairers coming into the trade. The much vaunted improvements in repair quality and turnaround times that the brands claimed justified their actions, have also failed to materialise. Restrictions are never part of a repair culture; they are the death of it.”