“Pinkwashed” products cash in on breast cancer awareness month

By Rachel Popa

As soon as October rolls around, products in stores became awash in pink, the city buildings become draped in pink light, and pink ribbons adorn professional sports uniforms and stadiums. It’s almost ritual.

All this pink signifies the start of breast cancer awareness month. While the pink ribbons and hues are intended to spread awareness and educate the public about breast cancer, corporations and businesses often use breast cancer awareness month to bring in extra profits through pushing “pinkwashed” products.

According to a report done by ABC News, pinkwashing is when “a company or organization claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.”

A startling example of pinkwashing comes from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation who in 2012 released a perfume called “Promise Me” that contained carcinogenic ingredients for the purpose of raising money for breast cancer research. More recently, they sponsored a pink-colored drill bit to be used by Baker Hughes, an oilfield services company, to promote “breast health facts, including breast cancer risk factors and screening tips”, according to FuelFix.com, an energy news site.

According to the Washington Post, such a drill bit would be used for hydraulic fracking, which is known to release cancer causing carcinogens into the water supply. Such a partnership between a cancer research foundation and an oil company that contributes to the proliferation of cancer-causing chemicals creates a disturbing cycle – one where an oil company gets good exposure through a research foundation that seems to turn a blind eye to the dangers of its practices for the benefit of a large donation.  

In addition to the promotion of cancer-causing products for the benefit of cancer research, many companies that sell merchandise for the benefit of breast cancer research do not donate a substantial amount of the proceeds to actual research causes.

For example, the Dansko shoe company sold pink ribbon clogs in 2010 that didn’t directly support breast cancer research, according to Think Before You Pink, a pinkwashing awareness group. Instead, Dansko donated $25,000 to Susan G. Komen For the Cure, none of which came from the profit made from the shoes, which Dansko pocketed.

However, the Komen Foundation sees donations as donations, no matter where they come from.

“But in the end, the pink is a functional effort,”  Elizabeth Thompson, president of Susan G. Komen for the Cure told Forbes. “The work of our foundation is where the beef is. It’s where all this ends, where all this leads to….The pink is a means to an end.”

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