The shareholder fight that forced Apple’s hand on repair rights

The image is called "iFixitteardowniphone13_pro.

A repair video shows a user looking at the internal electronics of an Apple device.

I fix it.

Apple will soon make parts and repair instructions available to the general public, reversing years of restrictive repair policies. The company has fought independent repair for years by limiting access to parts, manuals, and diagnostic tools, designing products that are difficult to fix, and lobbying against laws that would give the right to repair.

Apple didn't change its policy out of the goodness of its heart. The announcement follows months of growing pressure from repair activists and regulators, and its timing seems deliberate, considering a shareholder resolution environmental advocates filed with the company in September asking Apple to re-evaluate its stance on independent repair. The fight over the resolution will be decided by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday.

The program has been in development for a year and a half, and is the next step in increasing customer access to Apple genuine parts, tools, and manuals, according to Nick Leahy. The timing of the announcement was not said if it was influenced by shareholder pressure.

The timing is definitely not coincidence.

Activist shareholders think it was. The right-to-repair resolution was filed by Green Century in September. Green Century is withdrawing its resolution asking Apple to reverse its anti repair practices because of today's announcement.

That is what Apple seems to be doing with its new Self Service Repair program. The program will allow members of the general public to order genuine Apple parts in order to make basic iPhone repairs at home, something Apple has long argued is too dangerous for individuals to do. The display, battery, and camera will be the first things Self Service Repair will focus on. The new Apple Self Service Repair Online Store will allow individuals to place an order for genuine Apple parts, send in their old part for recycling, and receive a new one.

Green Century requested that Apple make changes to its repair policies.

The program announcement by Apple is light on details, such as whether the program will be expanded beyond the two most recent models of the device, how much genuine parts will cost customers, and whether it will eventually make parts available for a wider range of repairs. The program will eventually be expanded to other iPhone models, but not yet, according to the announcement. Green Century requested that Apple make changes to its repair policies so that independent repair can be made.

The initial response from Apple was not conciliatory. Tarizzo says that Apple asked the SEC to block the proposal on October 18 before the self service announcement. According to Tarizzo, Apple argued before the SEC that the proposal to make its devices easier to fix ran afoul of shareholder proposal guidance by interfering with Apple's normal business operations.

The SEC issued new guidance regarding no-action requests that include a carve-out for proposals that raise significant social policy issues. If the proposals raise issues with significant societal impact, shareholders can bring resolutions that affect the company's day-to-day business operations. Tarizzo believes that the change made it more likely that the SEC would side with Green Century, since the mutual fund company connected the dots between increased access to repair and the fight against climate change. Since the majority of emissions associated with our gadgets occur during the manufacturing stage, using devices as long as possible through maintenance and repair is one of the best ways to reduce the climate impact of consumer technology.

Tarizzo says that the new guidance indicates it is very likely that we would prevail. It took away a lot of Apple's leverage.

On the same day that Green Century was required to respond to the no-action request, Apple announced its new Self Service Repair program. Green Century is withdrawing the shareholder resolution entirely instead of arguing that the SEC should allow it to move forward.

Some of Apple's competitors have adopted right-to-repair policies.

Many had assumed Apple would respond to Green Century's resolution the same way it had responded to shareholder resolutions before, but it came at a unique time for the right-to-repair cause. The first national right to repair bill was introduced to Congress in June, as 27 states considered right to repair bills this year. They have sent an alarming message to companies like Apple that restrictive repair practices may not be legal in the future.

The federal government was also involved. In May, the Federal Trade Commission came out in favor of independent repair with the release of a report finding "scant evidence" to justify restrictions imposed by companies like Apple. In July, President Biden signed an executive order that encouraged the FTC to craft new regulations that would limit the ability of cell phone makers to restrict repair work. The rules are a long way from coming into effect, but Apple made a decision based on the looming regulations.

Some of Apple's biggest competitors have already embraced right-to-repair policies. Last month, Microsoft agreed to comply with a first-of-its-kind right-to-repair resolution brought by environmental nonprofit As You Sow. Microsoft agreed to conduct a study on the environmental and social benefits of increasing access to repair by the end of the year. Activists speculated that Apple could respond in kind to Green Century filing a similar shareholder resolution with the company.

The pressure of the right-to-repair movement is what caused the company to change its stance on independent repair.

The result is a huge victory for Green Century. Tarizzo says that Apple's new program doesn't go all the way where we want the company to go, but it is a significant enough step that it warrants a withdrawal. The fact that they will be selling common replacement parts, tools, and releasing repair manuals is very much in the spirit of what we were hoping to see.

Tarizzo believes that the timing of Apple's announcement is related to Green Century's shareholder resolution, and that the company's about-face on independent repair is the product of the combined pressure of all sides of the right-to-repair movement.

The senior right to repair campaign director at the US Public Research Interest Group agrees.

The whole campaign has changed Apple's position, according to the man. I don't think you can point to one thing that made it happen. It all made it happen.