Here’s something that could turn the retail shopping world on its head: a free new smartphone app called Buycott, which lets you scan bar codes and nail the identity of a product’s corporate parent. Say, for example, that you wanted to boycott paper products that trace their lineage to Koch Industries, the app will flag Quilted Northern, Angel Soft, Mardi Gras and Soft ‘n’ Gentle toilet paper as well as Vanity Fair plates and napkins, Brawny towels and Dixie cups.
Buycott also works in the other direction, enabling you to identify products associated with socially responsible companies. You can join campaigns and create your own campaigns through Buycott, too, although from what we’ve seen so far, that might be opening up a case of too much of a good thing.
The inspiration behind Buycott
Clare O’Connor of Forbes.com has been following the development of Buycott since last summer, when she noted that progressive activist and Harvard-trained computer scientist Darcy Burner pitched the idea of using bar codes to identify corporate affiliations during her 2012 Netroots Nation keynote speech.
Apparently Burner was unaware that a freelance programmer named Ivan Pardo was thinking along the same lines and was already midstream in creating Buycott. The app is now available for iPhone and Android through iTunes and Google (as of this writing, though, the Android app was taken down in order to fix a glitch).
Writing yesterday, O’Connor reported that the app had already climbed to #10 in the App Store, with new users piling on at the rate of 10 per second.
Is Buycott too much of a good thing?
In answer to our own question: no. The only problem we can see, which O’Connor also touches on, is that you may find yourself leaving a typical supermarket with very few products in your cart, once you are fully aware of the corporate family tree attached to everything in the aisles.
However, in the real world small compromises are made every day, so, if anything, it seems that Buycott is an extremely useful tool for prioritizing your shopping list rather than limiting it to a few “safe” items. Your range of choice also depends on whether or not your budget enables you to shop at specialty stores that focus their supply chain on socially responsible producers.
Buycott is also careful to note that the corporate landscape is constantly shifting, so while it can serve as a general guide it cannot guarantee real-time updates when companies are bought and sold.
The only other thing to be aware of is that Buycott is an information platform without a particular advocacy position. As its website states, it is “a tool that lets you organize your consumer spending to help causes that you care for, and to oppose those that you don’t.”
Taking that mission to heart, Buycott users have already started campaigns ranging from “Support Local Craft Beer” to “Colbert Nation.”
On the more serious side, the growing roster of Buycott campaigns also includes groups against Nestle, ALEC and Koch Industries, and for LGBTQ equality and GMO labeling.
Keeping in mind that Buycott itself does not advocate exclusively for progressive causes, there are also campaigns titled “Avoid Abortion” and “Right to Life, End Abortion,” though so far these have only gathered a few dozen followers while most of the other campaigns have already chalked up numbers in the three, four and five-digit ranges.
Speaking of Koch Industries…
Aside from bringing Buycott to the attention of mainstream media readers through Forbes, O’Connor also singled out Koch Industries for particular attention, and with good reason.
The company is spearheaded by brothers David and Charles Koch, who have become notorious for steering millions in funding to climate change misinformation and lobbying efforts against greenhouse gas management, as well as a misinformation campaign relating to formaldehyde safety and a Wisconsin utility takeover scheme among other sketchy causes.
Koch Industries, which is known primarily for its fossil fuel operations, is also listed as one of the top 10 polluters in the U.S. according to the latest University of Massachusetts “Toxic 100” survey.
The other nine, if you want to start a campaign on Buycott, are Bayer Group, General Electric, Precision Castparts, SPX Corp., Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, BASF, Northrop Grumman and Public Service Enterprise Group.
[Image: Courtesy of Buycott]