Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has officially thrown his weight behind a national right-to-repair law, adding momentum to the issue as he and the other 400 trillion Democratic presidential candidates ramp-up their White House ambitions.
As part of his campaign to overhaul policies governing the agriculture and farming sector, Sanders outlined a sweeping set of initiatives for driving “a transition in our agricultural system away from a consolidated, profit-driven industrial model to one that rebuilds and restores rural communities.” Those include the right for farmers to repair their equipment, an issue that’s become a serious problem as manufacturers work monopolize repairs for tools necessary to perform the basic functions of farmers’ jobs.
“In rural America today, farmers can’t even repair their own tractors or other equipment because of the greed of companies like John Deere,” Sanders wrote, vowing, if he secures the presidency, to “pass a national right-to-repair law that gives every farmer in America full rights over the machinery they buy.”
Here’s what that means: Right-to-repair laws ensure consumers have access to the parts, schematics, repair information, and any other necessary tools needed to repair the equipment that they rightfully own. It used to be that farmers could repair their farm equipment themselves. But as this equipment becomes increasingly advanced and software-reliant, the tools necessary to perform those repairs become harder to get ahold of.
Because big agriculture companies have actively lobbied against allowing farmers access to that information, they are able to maintain monopolies on the costs of the repair in much the same way that Apple—itself known for its anti-right-to-repair lobbying—is able to charge whatever price it wants for repairs to your iPhone (and anyone who owns an Apple product knows those do not come cheap). With repairs an absolute necessity for farmers, they’re forced to either bend to the will of manufacturers’ arbitrarily priced repair costs or go to extraordinary lengths to find their own workarounds.
Back in March, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, another Democratic presidential hopeful, springboarded the right-to-repair conversation from a mostly state-level issue to a national one with her own support of a national law for farmers. Warren wrote in a Medium post at the time that this law “should require manufacturers of farm equipment to make diagnostic tools, manuals, and other repair-related resources available to any individual or business, not just their own dealerships and authorized agents.”
“This will not only allow individuals to fix their own equipment — reducing delays — but it will also create competition among dealers and independent repair shops, bringing down prices overall,” she added.
Sanders was light on specifics of what his proposed right-to-repair law specifically entails, but it’s also a relatively small—albeit notable—bullet point in a much larger plan to hold big agriculture accountable and overhaul policies to better protect working farmers. With Warren having thrown her support behind a national right-to-repair law as well, it’s possible we’ll hear more about his proposal for this specific policy as we spiral into the hell-vortex of the 2020 election.