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Behind the Headlines: Ever Tried a Buycott?

06/10/2013 12:25 EDT | Updated 08/10/2013 05:12 EDT
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A relative of a missing Bangladeshi garment worker reacts as she gathers at a graveyard for victims of the garment factory collapse in Dhaka on May 1, 2013. Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis joined May Day protests Wednesday to demand the execution of textile bosses over the collapse of a factory complex, as rescuers warned the final toll could be more than 500. AFP PHOTO/Munir uz ZAMAN (Photo credit should read MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Behind the Headlines: The social causes in current events.

In a unique take on daily news hits, Free The Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger go behind the headlines to explore how the stories you read are connected to the causes you care about.

"I love your shirt. Where's it from?"

We've all responded to this by rattling off the name of the retail store. But the question lingers.

Where was the cotton harvested? Where was it manufactured? Where is the port of export? Where is the warehouse?

Chances are, your shirt has crossed more borders than you have. So how can you answer the question?

The recent collapse of a multi-storey factory in Bangladesh was a tipping point for a trend of transparency in retail. The industrial disaster killed more than 1,100 people and shocked some consumers into pushing for an end to so-called fast fashion. Now more than ever, customers are looking to trace product origins and factory working conditions.

Shoppers vote with their dollars, and have the power to shift marketplace trends. But if you lack the knowledge to enforce that power, you might as well be powerless. Don't worry: There are apps for that.

We tracked down just a few of the online-based tools that use technology to empower the consumer.

Here's how to use your gadget to shop for good:

Trace corporate genealogy with Buycott.com

Are you sure that Mom n' Pop ice cream maker is still family owned? This app traces brands back to their parent companies to help you make consumer choices that don't conflict with your principles.

"A buycott is the opposite of a boycott," according to the website, which promises to help users form brand loyalties that align with their social values. Users sign up for "campaigns," or online petitions urging corporations to adopt certain practices (GMO labelling or support for local craft brewers). Shoppers search store names for potential conflicts.

The website admits this process is less than scientific, as ownership can be hard to trace. But users can add or contest this information, and so user-generated content is constantly growing and improving the data.

Track product impact with GoodGuide.com

Just search for a household product -- everything from dish soap to diapers -- and retrieve ratings for its social, environmental and health impacts.

Founder and University of California at Berkeley professor Dara O'Rourke is a leading academic expert on global supply chains. He's assembled a team of researchers to track the life cycle of everyday items and rate them on a scale of ten based on criteria for each category: health, environment and social responsibility. Users can personalize rankings based on their own hierarchy, and view alternative products if those searched don't measure up. Even the rating system is transparent: Users can click links to "data" and "methodology"-- just like high school science reports.

Check a company's certification at Bcorporation.net

B Corps consists of more than 600 companies worldwide that have been certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards for both social impact and transparency.

Companies take an Impact Assessment survey, which is then rated by B Lab's independent Advisory Council -- experts who oversee the rating standards in both developed and emerging markets. The website posts the results score if the company scores at least 80 on a metric of 200.

Users can search for a company or product category to see if it meets the standard. The best part? It's voluntary. The industry itself is working toward new social standards.

Wear your heart on your sleeve with FashioningChange.com

You don't have to start a hemp farm or make your own gaucho pants to prove that you care about the origin of your clothes. You can be both fashion conscious and socially conscious -- if you pick the right brands.

Enter Adriana Herrera, whose personalized shopping guide is unique to each user. Sign up and select your preferred price point, favourite brands, style icons and the causes closest to your heart. Then shop online according to each category.

The site will recommend a designer tee with sales proceeds going to support animal rights, for instance. Or it might find you an environmentally-friendly alternative to a big brand item with an equally big carbon footprint.

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded the international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in 11 cities across North America this year, inspiring more than 160,000 attendees from over 4,000 schools. For more information, visit www.weday.com.

Bangladesh Factory Collapse (UPDATED)