New App Helps Consumers Avoid Koch Industries and Monsanto Products and Trace Corporate Ownership of Everything in Their Shopping Cart

News & Politics

Given the byzantine corporate ownership structures of practically every item Americans purchase, it takes near encyclopedic knowledge to know which companies you are supporting when you buy, say, toilet paper.

A new free app will help conscious consumers know whose pockets they are lining, and help them avoid supporting right-wing causes and truth-obscuring corporate conglomerates like Koch Industries and Monsanto. The free downloadable app scans everything in your shopping cart and traces the ownership all the way up to the parent company. Sometimes that trail will resemble a complicated family tree, since parent companies don't always want you to know who their offspring is. Just by way of example, Brawny paper towels, Angel Soft toilet paper and Dixie Cups are all products of Georgia-Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. The Brothers Koch also have gotten their corporate hands into the seemingly progressive yoga pants industry. But when you buy stretchy Lycra-containing pants for your downward dog, they are made by Invista, a textile company Koch bought.

The idea for an app for more consicous-shopping first germinated at a Netroots Nation gathering, when Darcy Burner, the former Microsoft programmer, suggested some app developer work on it. A group calling itself Buycott was already at work on the challenge, ultimately making the app even more spophisticated than Burner envisioned. It took 16 months for freelance programmer Ivan Pardo, 26, of Los Angeles to develop the app that allows you to scan the barcode of any item in your shopping cart and find out who your purchase is enriching.

But it goes beyond that, as's Clare O'Connor reports. Users of the app can  "can join user-created campaigns to boycott business practices that violate your principles rather than single companies. One of these campaigns, Demand GMO Labeling, will scan your box of cereal and tell you if it was made by one of the 36 corporations that donated more than $150,000 to oppose the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food." Monsanto, of course, comes to mind, but it has plenty of company including: Coca-Cola, Nestle, Kraft and Unilever.

On a more positive note, Buycott has campaigns to support companies that support progressive causes, like Absolut and Starbucks, both of which have supported marriage equality.

The app is free and downloadable to the Android or iPhone.

Buycott campaigns encouraging shoppers to support brands that have, say, openly backed LGBT rights. You can scan a bottle of Absolut vodka or a bag of Starbucks coffee beans and learn that both companies have come out for equal marriage.

“I don’t want to push any single point of view with the app,” said Pardo. “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.”

Forbes reached out to Koch Industries and Monsanto for comment and will update this story with any responses.

Update: Tuesday’s traffic surge is causing some problems for Buycott. Pardo says he’s working to fix issues with the Android app in particular. “The workload is a bit overwhelming now,” he said. “For example, our Android app was just recently released and the surge of new users today has highlighted a serious bug on certain devices that needs to be fixed immediately. So all other development tasks I was working on get put on hold until I can get this bug fixed.”

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