Enough Pinkwashing Breast Cancer Promotion

October is breast cancer month. It’s not breast cancer cure month, it’s breast cancer month. Consider that Breast cancer promotion is a big business in the United States. From the drugs to treat it to the faux “cure” search to all the pink merchandise and clothing that has nothing to do with “finding a cure”, people are profiting hugely from this horrible disease. Breasts have always been a business, (Hollywood, magazines, etc) but now, breast cancer itself is a business, and the promotion of breast cancer – not the “cure” – is also a huge money maker.

The “Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation” is “often referred to as simply Komen, is the largest and best-funded breast cancer organization in the United States” – not the best-funded breast cancer cure foundation in the US. Why do people give them money?

On Komen fraud:

Only 21% of money that Susan G. Komen for the Cure raises goes to cancer research “for the cure”. Simple math tells us that 79% of the money they raise isn’t going to anything that could produce a cure. As if that wasn’t bad enough, donating to cancer research is essentially giving free money to drug companies who make billions in profit every year, and don’t need your money, and are only interested in research that can lead to patentable, highly profitable drugs that they can sell back to you. For more on this, watch my 500k view rant Why I Don’t Race for the Cure.

-Susan G. Komen for the Cure has taken legal action against over 100 small non-profits for using the phrase “for the cure” in their fund-raising campaigns. How dare you sell ‘cupcakes for the cure’. Sue that little girl!

There’s a lot more. If you want to read about it, just google “Komen fraud”. Women need to pull away from this pink nonsense, Komen fraud, and demand the scientific research to cure breast cancer is actually what is going to be emphasized in the future. Enough with the pink crap! Let’s get serious about cancer. We also need to see an accounting of all the money from all the pink crap that is sold constantly in stores, online, and by groups like Komen. Where is Komen’s accounting? Have a look. (Komen itself only claims 25% goes to research and a cure.)

Then there’s this from Common Dreams:

“Breast cancer is the darling of corporate America, with pink ribbons adorning everything from handbags to handguns. Corporations put a pink ribbon on their products to boost sales and build their brand. And it works—sales go up and profits increase. Unfortunately, despite 25 years of pink ribbon marketing, breast cancer diagnoses have not gone down.

It’s one reason the national education and activist organization that I lead, Breast Cancer Action, has long called October “Breast Cancer Industry Month.” October was designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) more than 30 years ago—by the corporation now known as AstraZeneca, in partnership with the American Cancer Society. Three decades later, corporations in virtually every industry participate in breast cancer promotions. It’s no surprise that Pharma and biotech companies that produce treatments get involved. But corporations that manufacture products that increase the risk of breast cancer also join up with multimillion-dollar cancer charities to “raise awareness” during BCAM. This coordination produces a neat profit cycle for all involved, by keeping the spotlight on awareness and early detection while ignoring primary prevention.

The pink ribbon isn’t just a symbol of breast cancer awareness; it’s a symbol of the breast cancer industry. This October marks 25 years since the multibillion-dollar cosmetics corporation The Estée Lauder Companies helped launch the pink ribbon and with it the global marketing bonanza.

The now pink ribbon was, from the very beginning, a corporate take-over of what began as a peach-colored ribbon focused on prevention. Charlotte Haley developed the first breast cancer ribbon to promote political action and bring resources and attention to breast cancer prevention. When Estée Lauder and Self magazine approached Haley in 1992 to partner, Haley declined, saying they were “too corporate.” Not to be deterred, Estée Lauder and Self “rebranded” the ribbon at their lawyers’ advice. And when they changed the color of the ribbon, they also changed the focus from prevention to their own corporate profit.

Nothing reveals the profit motive behind the corporate pink ribbon more clearly than the practice of pinkwashing: when companies claim to care about breast cancer by promoting their pink ribbon products, but at the same time produce, manufacture or sell products that may increase the risk of the disease. When Estée Lauder slapped the first pink ribbons on their products they not only launched the breast cancer industry, they became the original pinkwasher. Estée Lauder tells us to buy their products because they care about breast cancer. But they don’t tell us that their products contain chemicals that may increase the risk of the disease—or even interfere with treatments.

A number of chemicals have been associated with increased breast cancer risk. Hormones play a critical role in the development and treatment of breast cancer. And a large body of research implicates commonly-used hormone disruptors in increasing risk of the disease. Some newer research suggests that these same chemicals might also interfere with the most common breast cancer treatments.

Cosmetics and personal care products are one of the least regulated industries in the U.S. Which means that Estée Lauder can comply with the law, and still their products may expose users to chemicals that are suspected to increase the risk of breast cancer. Indeed, Estée Lauder is choosing to celebrate 25 years of pink ribbon marketing by encouraging women to buy their “Advanced Night Repair” serum—which comes with a collectable Pink Ribbon Keychain—but contains the hormone disruptor ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, more commonly known as octinoxate. Octinoxate is absorbed through the skin and mimics estrogen. The health group Silent Spring advises the public to avoid products that contain oxtinoxate.

Octinoxate is not the only chemical of concern in Estée Lauder’s products. In fact this year, nearly every product sold under Estée Lauder’s Breast Cancer Campaign lists “fragrance” as an ingredient. Anything that is labeled “fragrance” is protected as trade secret, which means that companies are not required to disclose the specific chemicals used. Numerous studies have shown that fragrance often includes hormone disruptors and carcinogens, as well as sensitizers that can trigger uncomfortable side effects for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Without this basic transparency, there is no way to know all of the chemicals in Estée Lauder’s products that may increase the risk of breast cancer or interfere with treatments.

In addition to cleaning up their cosmetics, to protect consumers from chemicals of concern, Estée Lauder should join companies like Johnson & Johnson that have committed to removing 1,4-dixoane, a mammary carcinogen, from their production processes. Actions that might bring them a step closer to their self-proclaimed goal to “create a breast cancer-free world.”

It takes more than a pink ribbon to show a company really cares about women living with and at risk of breast cancer. Instead of taking steps to clean up their products and manufacturing process as part of their work to “create a breast cancer-free world,” Estée Lauder is congratulating themselves on distributing more than 150 million pink ribbons at their beauty counters and illuminating more than 1,000 landmarks around the world pink “to raise awareness.” They even hold the Guinness World Record for “Most Landmarks Illuminated for a Cause in 24 Hours.” But in our book, the only record they hold is longest running empty awareness campaign.

As Estée Lauder promotes 25 years of pink ribbon marketing, we are calling on them to stop the betrayal and stop pinkwashing. Hypocritical marketing and publicity stunts in the name of awareness get in the way of the true work needed to address and end the epidemic.

Can you believe the company that is pink washing is also potentially causing breast cancer?

This might be the most egregious example of Pink Hypocrisy, but it is all around us in October. And most of the rest of the months too. Keep an eye out, especially for your wallet. If you want to donate to “curing cancer” perhaps you should consider a much more responsible group than Komen, like the Silent Spring Institute, or even the American Cancer Society, though I’m not endorsing either of them because I haven’t done enough research. How could they be worse than Komen et al.?