In the movie "Jackie Brown," Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) and his partner-in-crime Louis (Robert De Niro) have a profanity-laced conversation about one of Robbie's girls, Melanie (Bridget Fonda). See, Melanie's a surfer girl who's always looking to make a few extra bucks wherever she can, even if that means stabbing her employer in the back to get it. Louis can't believe Ordell keeps Melanie around when she can't be trusted. Ordell's explanation:
"You can't trust Melanie, but you can trust Melanie to be Melanie."
And that's how corporations are.
They are not out to get us. They are not in the business of trying to make consumers sick, or purposely using morally-iffy production methods because they are evil. That would imply corporations have some kind of emotional center, and they do not. Despite what the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling may have us believe, corporations are certainly not "people." They are instead machines built for one purpose, and that purpose is collecting money. Like Melanie, you can't trust them. But you can trust them to act like corporations.
But to make this system work, their attempts to make money any way they can must be met by an opposition of equal force. If not, it would be like a football team trying to get into the endzone with the opposing team just hanging out on the sidelines: not very fair and kind of silly. Which is where the government comes in. They're the ones that are supposed to get in the way by creating new laws and agencies that make sure corporations aren't putting consumers at risk. Corporations will always try to cross the line, that is their nature. But government institutions are around to keep them from doing so.
At least, that's the way the system's supposed to work. You wouldn't know it from the kinds of stuff that GMO developer Monsanto has pulled off in just the past few months alone. They've not only snuck an addendum into federal legislation that will allow them to bypass certain testing procedures and won a huge Supreme Court decision against a small farmer over a copyright issue. They've also essentially been using taxpayer dollars to market their products abroad. As this new report from Mother Jones makes clear:
[T]he US State Department has been essentially acting as a de facto global-marketing arm of the ag-biotech industry, complete with figures as high-ranking as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mouthing industry talking points as if they were gospel.
Meaning, sometimes the government isn't the correct entity to keep the consumers' best interests in mind. Sometimes, they have to watch out for themselves. Luckily, the consumer has one extremely potent weapon at their disposal: Money. As the saying goes, one dollar, one vote. Every dollar given to a corporation like, say, Monsanto is a vote agreeing with what they're doing. A dollar kept from them, therefore, is a vote in the opposite direction. If you do not enjoy GMOs in your food, then, it would behoove you not to buy any products that are somehow linked to Monsanto.
Unfortunately, this method only works in a world where the information about who owns what is made clear. As we know, there is no "MONSANTO" printed in bold letters on most products that utilize Monsanto-made items, so the only way to not give them your monetary "votes" is by doing an intense amount of research. And, frankly, your average consumer doesn't have the time or expertise for.
Enter: A new app called Buycott.
Developed by Ivan Pardo, a 26-year-old programmer from right here in L.A., it is, as the kids say, "a game-changer" in the realm of consumer-based activism. It works like so: Pick up anything that has a barcode, scan the barcode into the app, and presto! You now know all of the vital information about the company that owns the product, if another corporation owns that company, the name of the CEO, and so on and so forth. No longer can corporate entities hide behind expertly-named brands or skillfully-crafted slogans. With the app, the wizard's curtain has been pulled.
Beyond the simple information available, users can also take action to help the awareness of other users. Says Forbes:
Even more impressively, you 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.
As of this writing, there are already campaigns to "Avoid Koch Industries," "Say No to Factory Farming" and "Avoid Sweatshop & Child Labor." And as more people use the app, more campaigns will be developed, and more information will be available. Which means that when we head out into the voting booth that is consumerism, we will finally be well-informed.