Meet Buycott, an App That Makes Ethical Shopping as Easy as Scanning a Barcode
You are what you buy.
If smartphone technology makes it easier to moderate your personal life — from water consumption, to physical activity, to daily screen time — it also has the capacity to help you become a more engaged Global Citizen.
In 2017, Global Citizen is highlighting apps that givee them the tools to engage with the global community with nothing more than a cellphone.
You find yourself in the aisle of your local Safeway grocery store deliberating between two ostensibly equal products — let’s say boxes of crackers. They have similar prices, probably a similar taste, and are about the same price. You need a tie-breaker.
How about the ethics of the company that produced them?
Believe it or not, there’s an app for this situation.
Called Buycott, the premise of this conscious consumerism app is actually quite simple: that shoppers should know whether the products they buy meet ethical standards, in real time.
Buycott markets itself as an app that lets you “vote with your wallet.” Its primary function is to allow you to scan any barcode — on a bottle of soap, or a cereal box, or a tomato — and find out information about the company that produces it.
Does the company treat its workers properly? Does it use animal testing? Does it support human rights causes? With Buycott, you can find out before you buy.
Buycott was released in early 2013 by Ivan Pardo, a freelance programmer at the time, who had spent 16 months developing and fine-tuning the app.
“What we’re trying to do at Buycott is allow you to be a democratic agent when you are shopping,” Pardo, the founder and CEO of Buycott, told Global Citizen.
Not only does Buycott allow users to scan individual items with their smartphones to find out information about the companies that produce them, it also allows users to support a wide variety of campaigns aimed at spreading awareness of unethical business practices.
For people who didn’t vote for President-elect Trump, for example, you can view the Boycott Trump Products campaign.
There are other campaigns to boycott companies that contribute to income inequality by overpaying executives and/or underpaying workers, chocolate companies that use slave labor, and companies that use animal testing for their products.
A neat feature of the app is that for any item you look up, Buycott will provide you with a family tree of products made by the same parent company. Was that toothbrush you’re buying actually sold by a subsidiary of Coca Cola? Is that box of tea produced by a company that’s owned by Nestle?
“There’s this ever-evolving web of companies that are really owned by huge multinationals that are complicit in a whole lot of nasty things,” Pardo said. “It’s always changing and it’s hard for people to catch up.”
There’s even a theory, called the “illusion of choice” theory, that posits that almost any consumer good we buy can be filtered back to 10 multinationals, including Kraft, General Mills, and Kelloggs.
If you don’t want to support these brands, Buycott can tell you if the product you’re buying can ultimately be traced back to one of them.
Unfortunately for many, even apps like Buycott don’t offer solutions to the larger challenge of unethical production, Pardo admits.
“It’s almost always more expensive to buy the product that’s sustainable,” he said. For example, Padro said, if you're shopping at Walmart, where people shop for value, you'll find fewer sustainable options.
Read more: 15 Apps a Day to Keep the Doctor Away
Still, having access to real-time information about the ethical standards of the companies we encounter on a daily basis gives consumers something they lacked before: a seat at the table.
The reverberations of our individual choices can go beyond the local boundaries of the grocery store, and affect workers halfway around the world. The bigger the movement to hold companies accountable becomes, the louder individual voices will become.
You can download Buycott for free from the app store, here.