Retail: The secret shopper in your pocket

How do you know if the cutesy kitchen roll you're buying is owned by climate change deniers? There's an app for that

You might be holding a nice box with a picture of some flowers and dancing fairies on it during your weekly shop – but it's not always apparent which puppy-murdering empire of evil actually owns the benevolent-looking brand.

A new app called Buycott uses technology to empower consumers – by revealing which corporations are responsible for the contents of your basket. Once you've downloaded Buycott – and annoyingly, registered your details – you use your smartphone camera to snap a barcode. Then Buycott displays the corporate hierarchy that leads from your chocolate biscuits up to some megalomaniac barking out orders in a Chicago boardroom.

Developed in California by idealistic young coder Ivan Pardo, Buycott's aim was to tell soccer moms whether their supposedly ethical shopping list in reality featured items ultimately owned by the huge firms that dominate American retailing – such as Kraft, Cargill, and Koch Industries, run by the pantomime villain Koch brothers, Charles and David, who've been accused of advancing their political agenda by funding both the Tea Party and research to rebut evidence of climate change. Koch Industries also owns everyday brands Lycra and Nouvelle toilet tissue, among many, many others.

"It's a great app to use while you're out shopping," reckons Tim Hunt, of Manchester-based magazine Ethical Consumer. "It gives people power to make informed choices on the spot." You scan – then buy or boycott.

With Hunt's encouraging words ringing in my ears, I head to Tesco Express in Dalston, east London, for a low-level fightback against The Man. With a cover story concocted about "Instagramming stuff", I start ostentatiously scanning tubes of Pringles right in front of the security guard, to see if my disobedience registers. It doesn't. Neither do the barcodes.

The verdict? The app seems pretty useless at recognising much here in the UK, but that will change the more people use it and add their own data. In theory.

Heinz Baked Beans do come up when I scan them – but with scant information. It's also crashy, but Buycott blames high initial demand.

The idea is certainly commendable. And at the very least it makes you actually think, rather than just lobbing stuff in your shopping trolley, dead-eyed and oblivious to the consequences.

Buycott also strikes at the heart of "greenwashing" – where corporations use PR to make their wares look more cuddly – by showing you (it is hoped) the truth behind the ownership of supposedly benign brands. "There's a lot of greenwash about," cautions Hunt – who adds that Ethical Consumer is developing its own app for British buyers. It might not be foolproof, but Buycott is certainly a start.

Suggested Topics
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Sport
football
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Consultant / 1st Line Support

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As your knowledge grows you wil...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support and Sales Engineer - UC / M2M / IoT

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Cloud ...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk