Every time a shopper tosses a tube of toothpaste or carton of orange juice in their cart, that's a decision -- conscious or not -- to support the company that makes that product.
But what if you don't want to do business with companies embroiled in ethical scandals? What if you actually want to boycott brands whose practices aren't up to your standards?
There's a new (and free) smartphone application -- "Buycott" -- that makes it easier for consumers to make sure what's in their cart is aligned with what's in their heart. Simply choose which campaigns to join, and scan items before purchasing them to determine whether they're produced by companies you wish to avoid or companies you wish to support.
Buycott includes a wide range of user-sponsored campaigns covering social issues from animal welfare to economic justice to gay rights. These campaigns specify which companies to avoid ("boycott"), and which companies to support ("buycott").
One popular campaign is called "Demand GMO Labeling," which asks consumers to avoid buying products from companies that spent $150,000 or more to oppose genetically modified organism labeling laws in California.
In their pitch, the creators of the campaign point out that a recent poll shows 93 percent of Americans favor the mandatory labeling of GMOs, but that businesses like Monsanto (MON) and DuPont (DD) have spent significant amounts to block these changes.
Another popular campaign, called "Cut Funding Ties to ALEC," is aimed at the American Legislative Exchange Council, stating that the organization is "intent on amplifying the voice of big-business at the local and national level" at the expense of ordinary citizens. The campaign's pitch claims that about 200 bills a year are passed because of ALEC's ability to influence politicians using "model legislation" that is based on "a corporate wish-list."
Don't agree? No problem. You don't have to join these campaigns. There are user-created campaigns representing a wide variety of world views, and if you can't find any campaigns that represent your values, you can create one.
Scan to See What You're Supporting
Using the Buycott app is simple. Simply scan the bar codes of the item you're about to purchase. If that item comes from a company one of your campaigns boycotts, you'll see a red bar on the top of the screen that says "You're avoiding this company." If the item is not sold by a company one of your campaigns boycotts, you'll see a white bar at the top of your screen that says "No campaign conflicts."
You'll also find the name of the product's producer and the reason your campaign recommends that you avoid that company. In addition, you can see each listed company's "family tree" and ultimately trace the scanned products back to their parent companies.
Let's take a look at what Buycott had to say about several products on my grocery list this week using the two campaigns mentioned earlier -- "Demand GMO Labeling and "Cut Funding Ties to ALEC."
As you can see, the "Demand GMO Labeling" campaign made it particularly difficult to select an orange juice without any campaign conflicts. After finding that all of the brands available at my standard grocery store were off-limits, I had to go to Whole Foods to find one that wasn't made by a company I wanted to avoid. For other products, it was much easier.
A Sharper Tool to Carve Conflict from Your Cart
Given the product's newness, it shouldn't be surprising that there are several areas that still need work.
First, the application is still adding company and product information, and may not recognize every item you scan. In such cases, users are prompted to contribute to the improvement of the application by inputting relevant information about the product.
Second, it appears that the application is not yet able to recognize certain types of bar codes. For example, the bar codes found on stickers placed on individual pieces of produce are set up differently than standard bar codes. I was unable to successful scan any items of this type.
Despite these shortcomings, however, Buycott still appears to be a useful tool for guiding our purchasing decisions.
What do you think of the technology? Chime in below!
Motley Fool Contributor M. Joy Hayes, Ph.D. (@JoyofEthics), is the Principal at ethics consulting firm Courageous Ethics. She owns shares of Procter & Gamble.The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of PepsiCo and Whole Foods Market.
Our Favorite Hungry Thieves
Buycott App Makes It Easier to Put Your Money Where Your Ideals Are
It seems that in one corner of Germany, it just isn't safe to transport food in trucks anymore. In the small town of Bad Hersfeld, northeast of Frankfurt, thieves are running off with literally truckloads of goods. In August, 34,000 cans of Red Bull were robbed off a truck; in March, 30,000 euros ($40,000) worth of coffee; and this month, five tons of Nutella. That's 16,000 euros ($20,800) worth of chocolaty hazelnut goodness. It seems unlikely that a sweet tooth was the motive for that latest crime, but rather the odds of being able to move the spread easily and profitably on the black market. A large jar of Nutella can cost upwards of $6.50, even at discount retailers like Walmart (WMT).
An Orlando, Fla., man should have studied the work of his German counterparts better before he decided to hijack a trailer full of Campbell's soup this month. Investigators are unsure of the motives behind the crime -- Black market sales? A terrible cold? -- but after a 30-mile chase that involved a helicopter and K-9 law-enforcement unit, he was caught and the $75,000 worth of canned soup was safely retrieved.
"The court has seen many things stolen ... This is the first time the court's ever seen $75,000 worth of soup stolen," Broward County Judge Jay Hurley told the 51-year-old at his arraignment.
Canadians are known for their love of maple syrup, and Quebec has been called the "Saudi Arabia of syrup." So perhaps it's only natural that someone might view it as a liquid asset. Last August, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers discovered something strange in their stockpile. Someone had snuck off with $30 million worth of pure syrup, leaving behind barrels filled instead with water. There was panic. If that much syrup was released onto the black market, prices would be driven down and producers would suffer. Fortunately for breakfasts everywhere, in December, Canadian authorities raided a facility in New Brunswick and recovered most of the stolen goods.
In February, as a Krispy Kreme driver was making a delivery to a gas station convenience store in Dacula, Ga., a man police later identified as James Freddy Major jumped into the truck and took off, giving those on the road that night the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a convoy of police cars in hot pursuit of a doughnut truck.
After running a couple of lights, Major rammed into a mailbox, then attempted to escape on foot. He was tackled by a police dog and eventually arrested. It was, according to media reports, his 11th arrest in Gwinnett County since 1999.
A man from Illinois used fake paperwork to trick a Wisconsin cheese producer into loading $200,000 worth of Muenster on to his truck. He was arrested in New Jersey and the cheese recovered. However, the company, K&K Cheese, doesn't want its 42,000 pounds of cheese back because of concerns that it may have been tampered with. Instead, they will donate it to charity, if it gets cleared by the New Jersey health inspectors.
Maybe this thief didn't get the memo that the cheese bandit had been caught: He ran off with $100,000 worth of hamburger patties this month. The aspiring hamburglar struck at the shipping yard in New Jersey, rolling of with a shipment of burgers originally destined for The Netherlands. A spokesperson for the Linden Police Department said that food crimes like these occur frequently, and if the loot is not recovered within 48 hours, it has probably already made its way onto the black market.
Not every grocery-related theft involves edible items. Supermarkets, discounters and other retailers have all been victims of unusual crime trend recently: People stealing Tide laundry detergent. And it's no small matter: Some stores across the country are losing $10,000 to $15,000 worth of detergent a month.
After a series of such thefts were reported to them, police in Maryland started to get suspicious; it seemed like a more complicated matter than just random petty thefts. Turns out, all those shoplifters weren't just eager to wash their clothes; they were trading the Tide for drugs. Laundry detergent has become a popular item to barter for illegal drugs or sell to black market operations, because it's impossible to track, doesn't spoil, and everyone needs it. Tide, which is the nation's most popular detergent brand, is also significantly more expensive than most other detergents. Like the maple syrup we mentioned before, Tide, too, has earned the nickname “liquid gold" for its value as street currency.