We all know that October is observed as the ‘‘Breast Cancer Awareness’’ month. It is an effort made to raise awareness among people about the disease, encourage them for regular check-ups, especially women over the age of 50 years and to decrease the stigma around breast cancer. Supporters hope that greater knowledge will lead to earlier detection of breast cancer, which is linked to higher long-term survival rates, and that money raised for breast cancer will produce a reliable, permanent cure. The pink ribbon is the most prominent symbol of breast cancer awareness. It has been a great driving force for this campaign, which has achieved substantial results since its start.
However, in recent years, there has been an “over-awareness” situation regarding breast cancer. The attention of the cause has shifted from saving lives to the commercialization of the cause. Women with breast cancer cannot question or challenge the rightness of the advice their doctor gives. Patients are not encouraged to ask where research money is going or if the research industry is making progress in finding the “cure”. Sounds shady, doesn’t it? Well, in reality, it’s even murkier.
There’s a new term in town – ‘pinkwashing’ – and it’s not as innocent as it sounds. It is actually associated with companies that use the pink ribbon symbol or use the support of breast cancer charities as a marketing technique, to promote one of their products, while at the same time manufactured products have proven to contain ingredients that are linked to disease development or are used in a manner that associates it with the increased risk of disease. It was first coined by the Breast Cancer Association in their “Think Before You Pink” campaign, aiming to bring into light such faux companies that were pinkwashing breast cancer awareness programs.
A key entity in the pinkwashing campaign is sadly one of the largest and best-funded breast cancer non-profit organizations in the United States. While it is true that the organization has funded and organized numerous events in favor of breast cancer awareness, gathering praises nationwide, it has also been under the heat for some of its “pinkwashing” decisions and acts. Turns out the non-profit is a big organization pulling the wrong strings in disguise. It benefits from corporate partnerships, receiving huge donations and aids over $55 million a year from 216 corporate sponsors. However, these promotions are deceptive to consumers, benefitting the companies more than the charity, and promote products that may even cause cancer!
Some of the controversial pinkwashing acts and partnerships of Komen are:
|TYPE OF COMPANY||CAMPAIGN||THE PROBLEM|
|Credit card||Charge for a Cure (2002)||The company claimed that “in the search for a cure, every dollar counts.” The amount donated per qualifying transaction, regardless of the purchase amount, was only one penny.|
|Several water bottle retailers||Water cooler bottles made of Polycarbonate may contain BPA, which has been linked to breast cancer tumor growth.|
|Motor Company||Warriors in Pink (2008)||The study found that women employed in the automotive plastics industry were almost five times as likely to develop breast cancer prior to menopause, compared to women in a control group.|
|Food chain||Buckets for the Cure (2010)||The food chain’s chicken is known to contain carcinogenic chemicals.|
To make things worse, this foundation released its own perfume brand “Promise Me” in 2011. The perfume encountered opposition because it contained coumarin, oxybenzone, toluene and galactoside which are potentially harmful ingredients. It also changed its organization name to include the words “for the cure” and trademarked the running ribbon as part of its new branding strategy. Critics have asserted that the slogan itself implies that the majority of this foundation’s funds go to research, specifically to find a means to cure (and not merely to treat or detect) the disease. By their own figures, however, 21% of the total budget goes to research. In the words of a cancer survivor, “an organization that is actively pursuing other small charities over the use of the term ‘for the cure’ does not spend the majority of their own funds towards research for a cure.”
The “pinkwashing” issue is not limited to the above company and its sponsors. In 2007, another pink ribbon collection series used a donation to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) to promote products containing parabens, chemicals linked to breast cancer. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration had connected 5-Hour Energy drinks, a caffeinated energy shot promoted using a Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) sponsorship as cause marketing, to thirteen deaths and serious injuries, including heart attacks!
1. Susan G. Komen for the Cure – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_G._Komen_for_the_Cure (Accessed on 15th October 2019)
2. Pinkwashing – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinkwashing_(breast_cancer) (Accessed on 15th October 2019)
3. Breast Cancer Awareness – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breast_cancer_awareness (Accessed on 15th October 2019)