Buycott is a smart phone app that scans the products you buy, and lets you know who ultimately owns and controls them.


Buycott is a smart phone app that scans the products you buy, and lets you know who ultimately owns and controls them. This allows you to make informed decisions about what you spend your money on, so that you can support companies who take a stance you approve of, and avoid buying products that conflict with your values.

As activists, we are always looking to hit companies where it hurts: the pocket. As trade unionists, we know the most important way to do this is through industrial action. But boycotts are a really important tool too: we are consumers as well as union activists.

Buycott makes it a lot easier to track the complex supply chains that often shroud corporate responsibility.



You can sign up for campaigns that reflect what is important to you, whether it be human rights, the environment, women’s rights or any of a number of other issues.

When you use Buycott to scan a product, it will look up the product, determine what brand it belongs to, and figure out what company owns that brand (and who owns that company, ad infinitum). It will then cross-check the product owners against the companies and brands included in the campaigns you’ve joined, in order to tell you if the scanned product conflicts with one of your campaign commitments.

This is what happened when I scanned a product in The Body Shop:

I was disappointed to find that The Body Shop is off limits to me - it's part owned by Nestle, a company I boycott

I was disappointed to find that The Body Shop is off limits to me – it’s part owned by Nestle, a company I boycott

I was disappointed to find that The Body Shop is off limits to me – it’s part owned by Nestle, a company I boycott for a number of reasons – particularly their insistence that water isn’t a human right. But I wouldn’t have known without the app.

Boycotts are a particularly powerful tool when they are collectivised and supported by tens of thousands of people throughout the world.

The boycott of South African produce – and South African sport – was important for the pressure it put on the apartheid government. Within South Africa, consumer boycotts were a really important weapon against apartheid.

Right now, in the wake of Israel’s murderous campaign in Gaza, there are renewed calls for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the country.

There are also campaigns against corporate miscreants like Nestle, or those companies that have refused to pay compensation for Rana Plaza, or have engaged in union-busting activity.

But ownership and control can be really complex, and supply chains so hidden, that it can be hard to take effective action.

Well, Buycott makes all of this a lot easier.

The Buycott app allows you to scan a product’s barcode, before it tells you who the product is ultimately owned by, and whether it is a boycott or campaign you are supporting.

On the app, you can search through categories, such as labour, human rights, environment and so on, and support them. This is something trade union activists should be doing more of: creating campaigns on Buycott to make it easier for people to follow boycott calls.

In the end, we can’t shop ourselves to a better world. There is ultimately no such thing as ethical consumption, because everything we buy is tied into a world of exploitation, and everything is caught in a complex web of complicity. But this app makes it a lot easier to unpick those threads.

Even if you are not actually boycotting anything, this app will make you a more conscious consumer, as it reminds you who ultimately controls the products you buy.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
Author avatar

Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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