“Vote with your wallet” has long been a battle-cry for consumer activists, urging people to use their purchasing habits as a way to punish companies with discriminatory or anti-environmental practices. But when consumers don’t have a choice about what they’re buying or even just the information needed to make an informed choice, it’s hard for that motto to play out in reality.
Fortunately, a new app called Buycott by the Los Angeles-based developer Ivan Pardo gives that old mantra some teeth. Buycott works by letting consumers find out which mother corporation owns a product by scanning its bar code and avoiding purchases from companies whose values don’t align with their own.
Scanning a bottle of Ethos Water, for example, the app will tell me that the brand is owned by Starbucks. If I scanned an Honest Tea, I’d see it was owned by Coca-Cola. Buycott provides contact information for that company, including a phone number, Facebook page, and Twitter handle. And it’ll also show me a “Family Tree” of corporate lineage, linking brands through chains of subsidiaries to their ancestral overlords–and in many cases, reminding consumers that seemingly indie brands are owned by much larger companies.
All that’s well and good. But beyond just telling you who owns something, the app lets you join campaigns for causes like “Avoid Koch Industries” or “Demand GMO Labeling.” Once you’ve joined, it will tell you if a product you’ve scanned has violated any of the campaigns you’re a part of–for example, if a given product’s sale will benefit Koch Industries (like Dixie cups and many other common goods, as Forbes points out) or if a corporation has donated to anti-GMO labeling campaigns, like Monsanto.
“I don’t want to push any single point of view with the app,” Pardo told Forbes. “For me, it was critical to allow users to create campaigns because I don’t think its Buycott’s role to tell people what to buy. We simply want to provide a platform that empowers consumers to make well-informed purchasing decisions.”
Buycott calls itself “the opposite of a boycott. It is an active campaign to buy the products or services of a particular company or brand.” So there’s a positive (and more business-friendly) side to this type of activism as well: encouraging consumers to buy products who are actively supporting causes they love.
The app is available for the iPhone and Android.