On the surface a social enterprise could pass for any other business. It’s not until one digs deeper that they find a social or environmental mission that defines why they are in business. For example, a social enterprise could be a local coffee shop that trades in order to help coffee growers build their communities.
There’s a conscious effort to help consumers identify these businesses. In the UK, the Social Enterprise Mark was created to make social enterprises more visible and credible through certification. For shopping on the go, developers have created mobile apps to pinpoint the location of social enterprises.
All this is to ensure that the consumer knows where they are putting their money, because this is what consumers are asking.
In May, Forbes reported on a new app that lets users scan the barcode of a product which will in turn show a corporate family tree that points back to the parent company. Buycott was created by 26-year-old programmer Ivan Pardo to “provide a platform that empowers consumers to make well-informed purchasing decisions.”
The response for the app was so high that the servers weren’t prepared to handle all the traffic. Pardo had to pull the Android app from the store.
Regarding his inspiration for creating the app, he tells Forbes, “I saw how a friend was following a boycott by reading a blog and trying to remember what brands she was supposed to be avoiding. I figured that there should be an app to help people shop more consciously, and Buycott was our solution.”
While Pardo says that he doesn’t think Buycott’s role is to tell people what to buy, there is nonetheless a discussion highlighted through Forbes that it targets big corporations like Koch Industries or Monsanto. If a consumer scanned the barcode of Brawny paper towels or Angel Soft toilet paper, they would know that purchasing the product would mean sales for Koch Industries.
There’s also a function that allows users to create or join campaigns, so that when they scan a product, the app will check to see if the product conflicts with or supports campaign commitments. For example, there’s a campaign called Demand GMO Labeling that is a list of 36 companies who have donated more than $150,000 to oppose GMO labeling in California. There’s another that supports bicycle friendly businesses that have pro-bicycling measures. The app cross-checks products against campaigns that the user has joined.
When all is said and done, the flaw with tracking these companies on mobile apps is that corporate ownership is always changing. The challenge for Buycott is to maintain an updated and accurate database.
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