The rise of the ethical consumer has been one of the biggest trends to emerge over the past 20 years. It’s in the food industry however, that the concept has really taken root and become a fundamental for change. The organic movement, for example, was so powerful that even supermarkets quickly realised they had to change their practices. As mentioned in The Positive a few weeks ago, the Freegan movement is causing social interest that looks to be yielding solid results. Fairtrade has brought safer and happier working conditions to millions since the industry giants of the chocolate, tea and coffee industries realised the sheer weight of support behind the ideal.
Where things are as obvious as a free-range label on a box of eggs, the public is certainly capable of flexing their commercial muscle. However, when things become rather more, the pressure quietens almost immediately. Because of the moral issues raised by their actions, certain brands are being boycotted by ethical shoppers the world over,. In theory, the public’s preference of other brands over these will drive change. Many use third party companies as shields for their own interests. Both Perrier and San Pellegrino for example, supposed rivals for the fizzy water throne, are actually both owned by Nestlé. Tesco was recently discovered to be marketing many of its third party interests as being rustic and the sort of thing that would, ironically enough, help boost local high streets when faced by supermarkets.
So how is it possible to be an ethical consumer when such tools are commonplace? Until recently, only diligent research would allow one to truly apply their moral views to their purchasing habits However, a little app is doing its best to change that. The wittily named Buycott, allows its users to check exactly who produces the product in their hand and see the web of corporate interest that lies behind even seemingly benign products.
How it works is simple: it’s a barcode scanner. Consumers can scan the code of their potential purchase and then wait for the app to do its magic. The Buycott app checks the product against an extensive catalogue in order to work out who will actually be profiting from the sale. Quick and decisive, it cuts through the shroud of third party ownership and makes it easy for the well informed to keep their purchases ethical. It goes even further than that though, as it also allows users to input their general morality. When they do so, Buycott will automatically check the ethics of the products parent company and see if they are in line with the buyers. For instance, those that want to protest the current profiteering in the rainforests will be alerted if, say, their meat is grown in lands that have been made by harvesting ‘protected’ trees.
The creators of the app are clear about its purpose: “It’s a tool that will empower the ethical producers.” A traditional boycott suggests that those concerned should try and live free of products that are ethically questionable. Buycott suggests that those concerned should go and buy from the competitors whose methods of production are clean and safe.
It’s this desire to actually do something productive with their efforts, which seems to be driving the signups. Buycott already has hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of users, and more join every day. Popular campaigns are raising awareness of the ethics of production each and every day, with the top ones having already shown some excellent results. It seems like only a matter of time before this new type of public lobbying becomes popular and the consumer realises their enormous power.
What impact do you feel the consumer will have in this age of new technology?