Promoting Consumer Activism
A new app has been released that lets consumers know the companies behind their supermarket choices. As reported in Forbes, the free app, called Buycott, lets consumers scan the bar code on an item to find out about the brand and its position in the corporate family tree. The app also includes the ability to create user-generated campaigns to boycott or support particular business practices, such as companies donating money to oppose labeling of GMO foods or companies that support marriage equality.
The app was the brainchild of Ivan Pardo, a freelance programmer from Los Angeles. Pardo was inspired by a speech given by Darcy Burner, a Democrat who lost the 2012 election for Washington State’s first congressional district. In a speech to Democratic activists at Netroots Nation, Burner described the problems associated with secret donations to conservative causes by powerful corporate actors. As Burner described it at the time, “Our democracy has been bought and sold by people like the Kochs. When I’m out talking to voters, they say they want a way to take action.” But as Burner noted, complex corporate hierarchies can make taking action difficult.
Now, consumers can scan the barcode of a product and find out, for example, that purchasing Brawny paper towels, Angel Soft toilet paper or Dixie cups, supports Georgia-Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries.
It’s an interesting development in the arena of consumer activism, around which I’ve previously expressed a degree of skepticism. However, I think this is a positive development. More information will certainly help on the margins, and some people will certainly rethink their shopping habits based on this. But I still maintain that consumer activism (or more broadly, consumer citizenship) represents a very hollow understanding of both activism and citizenship in the modern world.