The perils of pinkwashing

October is here again, and everyone knows that means — a sea of pink as far as any consumer can see. I have nothing against Breast Cancer Awareness Month, my aunt being a survivor of the terrible disease. But allow me to introduce you all to the term pinkwashing.

Pinkwashing is the means by which corporations take advantage of the pink movement to move massive amounts of products that consumers already own. Another common definition of pinkwashing is the process in which companies actively attempt to help eradicate breast cancer while their products increase the rates of it. These newly minted pink products do provide some funds toward breast cancer research, but how much of that actual money goes toward that vital research?

Photo by Brian Hollingsworth.

There are some key things that consumers should do when donating through the power of purchasing. People should always ask, no matter whether they are buying something or not, how much of the profit goes toward the organization in question. Some products will tell you how much of the price is going toward the foundation in question, though often it is just a few odd cents here and there, which usually means the company has raised the prices on pink products to recoup any loss those 50 cents might cause their companies.

A dirty little secret about pinkwashing, or any other form of consumer-driven donating, is that corporations will often put a cap on how much money they are willing to donate to the charities they are supposedly supporting. Once that cap is met they will not donate any more money to the charity and net all the excess built in increased pricing as pure profit.

An example of how pinkwashing may in some ways contribute to the growing epidemic of breast cancer is the Promise Me pink fragrance sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Susan G. Komen for the Cure is one of the major charities that benefits from pinkwashing, their name being tagged on the recipient of most of the corporate donations. According to The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, the fragrance itself contains more than the listed chemicals on its FDA mandated chemical list. These unlisted chemicals have been linked to breast cancer. A bit ironic in a sick twisted way — buying perfume meant to raise money to aid research and searching for a cure for breast cancer giving you breast cancer.

If people want to help breast cancer research they should just donate money to the organizations directly. That being said, they should do so after some serious research about what the potential recipient of donations does since some organizations actively attempt to find a cure while others support cancer victims. There are those that do nothing more than raise awareness, which means more pinkwashing since that is the standard way to raise awareness.