Human rights? There’s an application for that. Launched in May 2013, the free application called ‘Buycott’ is revolutionizing the way social justice is approached by providing consumers with a detailed background into company ethics before making a purchase. Now 10th in the App Store, advocacy is trending with the use of popular technology.

After one scans the barcode, Buycott will trace the product or brand’s owning company and crosscheck it for ethical injustices within a matter of seconds. To make it easier to organize the user’s philanthropic goals, the application enables searches around specific personal conflicts such as human trafficking, labor rights, genetically modified organism labeling, animal welfare and more.

Even more impressively, it encourages grassroots political activism. Users can freely create their own campaigns, which are then incorporated in searches throughout the application and available for others to join. By combining a goal with a problematic company to target, anyone with a Smartphone can inform the world of which products should be avoided.

Many of the popular campaigns today demand opposition to major companies such as Monsanto, Koch Industries, Coca-Cola or Johnson & Johnson. Buycott also has a large presence of positive campaigns, in support of socially conscious companies. For example, Starbucks Coffee Beans made an early appearance on the application for its political support of marriage equality and for its fair trade initiatives.

Sadly, today’s global economy often functions off inhumane sweatshop labor to put cheap products on the shelves of wealthy nations. Sweatshops are known for their poor working conditions, unfair wages, lack of benefits, unreasonable hours and physical abuse. It is estimated that several hundred millions individuals worldwide, mostly women and children, are currently working for wages as low as 13 cents per hour.

Although they are present everywhere, sweatshops are more prevalent in developing nations, such as those in Southeast Asia and Central America, due to an absence of unions and labor laws. Some items most commonly produced through the sweatshop abuses of human rights are shoes, clothing, toys, chocolate, coffee, rugs and bananas.

Sweatshop labor and economically unjust institutions make it next to impossible for surrounding communities to rise out of a state of poverty. They are not truthfully increasing the number of jobs available for local people because the wages earned are too minuscule to provide a family with financial stability. Additionally, they are contrary to more beneficial, sustainable development efforts, stalling any real economic advancement.

Boycotting, or ‘Buycotting’ products manufactured under these contexts supports the broader fight against global poverty, by confronting companies with the injustices they promote and the demand for changed business practices.

 – Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Forbes, ABC News, Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, PBS, Buycott
Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

Can GMOs End Global Hunger?
While genetically modified (GM) foods have become a hot topic in the United States, they have received enormous attention in Africa.

At the same time that the United States has begun to debate mandatory labels for GM foods, scientists, farmers, and international organizations in Africa are pressuring governments to relax restrictions on GM technology.

This disparity in opinions towards GM crops mirrors the similar disparity of interests between the developed and developing world.

Despite the U.S.’s concern that GM crops will require more pesticides which contaminate and harm the environment, international relief organizations argue that GM crops can potentially alleviate plant diseases, the effects of climate change, and other grave threats to food production that African farmers may face.

In countries like Uganda, most people are farmers living off of their own crops and thus are more vulnerable to invasive pests and weather changes than Americans who shop in supermarkets and are more distanced from their food production.

The banana provides one example of a way that GM crops can help Uganda farmers and consumers. In the past year, “bacterial wilt disease has been cutting banana yields from 30 to 50 percent in Uganda.” When one considers that Ugandans consume up to one pound of bananas each day, it’s clear that this decrease in crop output means disastrous consequences for the Ugandans’ diet.

Recently, the National Agricultural Research Organization genetically engineered a bacteria-resistant version of the banana by breeding the fruit with pepper genes. Unless the Ugandan government passes a law that allows for use of GM crops, however, the disease-resistant banana hybrid will remain in the lab, untouched.

Though GM foods do have some clear benefits, they also come with disadvantages that prevent Ugandan farmers from fully supporting the GM law. Many Ugandans practice organic farming that rejects the use of pesticides and fertilizers because they can consequently damage other organisms like bees and fish that are important national exports.

GMOs can improve developing nations’ economies and prevent chronic hunger, but they may harm the environment and cultural traditions of these community farms in the process. This conflict of interest has many Ugandan farmers—and farmers around the world who have a stake in GM crop production—on edge, as they anxiously wait to see whether the futuristic potential of GM foods will be harnessed or rejected.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Source: NPR, FAO, International Society for Horticultural Science, National Banana Research Program
Photo: Tumblr