A law in France challenges the practice of ‘planned obsolescence’ for household appliances, but what about everywhere else?
Planned obsolscence: when products are designed to break, fail or become unfashionable
Planned obsolescence: when a product is designed with the intention of it breaking, failing or otherwise becoming ‘unfashionable’ after a period of time predetermined by the manufacturer. A government decree in France which came into force in 2015 is aimed at fighting this dubious business practice in the appliances industry, and this is just part of a larger movement against planned and built-in obsolescence across European Union member states.
Planned Obsolescence – should it be a punishable offence like any other deception?
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Planned obsolescence occurs when a product designer creates a design that is meant to phase out after a certain period of time. This makes the product have a lifespan of a limited duration, often influencing consumers to upgrade to a more expensive model. Many times, the product fizzles out just after the warranty period.
Purposes of Planned Obsolescence
Planned obsolescence may occur for many reasons. However, the primary one is money. When a manufacturer has saturated the market and can expect consumers will quickly upgrade to their new product, they may use planned obsolescence. This strategy can ensure that many consumers continue to upgrade products, buying each version along the way. Supporters of planned obsolescence also cite a competitive market, innovation and new technology as other benefits of planned obsolescence as companies must continue to research and develop new plans to enhance their existing products and to create new ones.
Detriments of Planned Obsolescence
Proponents against planned obsolescence say that this strategy has several negative benefits. For example, it may cause people to lose jobs. If products can simply be repaired, more people are needed to make these manual changes. Additionally, planned obsolescence inherently causes more waste. Replacing products expends more energy, resources and money. Having products that are not durable may erode consumers’ trust in certain industries.
Examples of Planned Obsolescence
Planned obsolescence occurs when the designer itself creates a product that is not meant to endure after a certain point. For example, light bulbs may burn out right after their warranty period, non-removable batteries may be used on certain electronics, spare parts may not be available for certain vehicles, televisions may have a heat-causing part next to a different part that will cause it to suffer from a power surge due to excess heat and fashion trends may make clothing quickly out of style.
What is the legal stance on this?
The European Economic and Social Committee has taken steps to ban products that have built-in defects that will cause the product to expire. Instead, the committee wants manufacturers to offer replacement parts for products and to offer more information about a product’s estimated lifetime so that consumers can make more informed decisions. Additionally, the committee wants products to be guaranteed to last a certain minimum amount of time, which is currently not a legal requirement. Consumer watchdogs also released a report showing how businesses utilize planned obsolescence and a desire for a new law that would provide consumers with longer periods of guaranty and a greater longevity of their goods. The French Senate prepared a bill regarding consumers’ rights that would extend the minimum lifetime of electronic items and establish a minimum three-year guarantee or five-year guarantee.
There are not currently national laws that prohibit planned obsolesce in the United States. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission does have the power to issue durability standards if it chooses to exercise it. It has done so in the past, such as in 2012 when cribs caused two infant deaths.
Even in the absence of planned obsolescence laws, other laws may be used to ensure that products last longer. For example, governments may impose mandated warranties for products that requires them to last longer. For example, the United States currently requires seatbelts to last for five years or 50,000 miles. The Italian government guarantees two years of service for any new computer. Other durability laws may be passed that require products to endure for longer periods of time. When these requirements are made, sturdier parts and more impressive technology are used. Some manufacturers may be sued pursuant to fraud claims, which usually rely on an affirmative misrepresentation that the defendant has made regarding the product. Implied warranties may also be violated when a product becomes obsolete more quickly.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.
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